A surge in the number of  South Korean tourists visiting Far East Russia has prompted the start of a regular cruise line on November 26 from the Korean port of Sokcho to Vladivostok, indicating a relaxation of visa requirements by Moscow is starting to pay off.

The Korean liner Glory Sea, which can carry up to 1,300 passengers, will ply the route every week and also make stops at the Japanese ports of Shimonoseki and Maizuru for passengers.

In 2016, South Korean tourists visiting the Primorsky Krai region where Vladivostok is located jumped more than 50% to about 50,000 people. And the numbers have surged again by 80% in the first half of 2017, according to the Korean National Tourism Organization.

Cruise liner transit passengers can remain in Vladivostok without a visa for up to 72 hours, while Koreans have the right to visa-free entry to Russia for up to 60 days.

For tourists from Japan, a new simplified electronic visa regime, which allows an 8-day stay in Vladivostok was introduced this summer.

Read: Vladivostok waiting on tourism windfall with new e-visa

“Primorsky Krai for Korea and especially for Japan is quite a budget place to travel,” said Roman Ivanishchev, the president of Russia’s Far Eastern Association of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers.

“We have good products, especially marine products. Maybe there is not such an abundance as in Japan and Korea, but they are not so expensive compared to the ones in Japan. In addition, Vladivostok is the closest European city to Japan, China and Korea,” he said.

It’s not just seafood. Russia is making it easier for citizens of 18 nations to enter the port city of Vladivostok to lure visitors to its new casinos and investors to its resource rich but still largely untapped Far East region.

Read: Russian Far East casino resort expansion rumbles into life

That’s been working with neighboring China, with visitors last year increasing 15% to 1.29 million. Russia now wants to broaden the appeal to other countries and with more offerings.

Casinos are among the lures Russia is using to promote tourism and investment into the underpopulated but resource rich Far East region. Photo: Vitaliy Ankov / RIA Novosti / Sputnik
Casinos are among the lures Russia is using to promote tourism and investment into its Far East region. Photo: Vitaliy Ankov / RIA Novosti / Sputnik

While large cruise liners from Korea and Japan call in at Russian ports, this will be the first regular cruise line service and adds to a weekly ferry that runs between Vladivostok and Donghae (South Korea) and Sakaiminato (Japan).

The schedule of the liner has been confirmed for December and January to test demand, said Valery Nagorny, the general director of the Vladivostok passenger terminal.