The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) has opened its seminar program for 2012 at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Brussels.
The focus was tourism to and from Russia, and if there was a thread that ran throughout the day, it was the issue of visas.
The centrality of this subject to European tourism from certain markets was reflected in the participation of both Award Azimov, ambassador-at-large to the Russian Federation, and Stefano Manservisi, director general of home affairs at the European Commission.
Ambassador Azimov described a strategic partnership between Russia and the EU, with the long-term goal of abolishing visas.
While he recognised a visa-waiver agreement would not be easy to achieve, the benefits were clear, and he was optimistic that an intelligent compromise could be achieved.
Russia was in a process of reform, and both Russia and the EU had much to learn from each other.
Manservisi responded by highlighting that passport security was a question of exchanging good practices in process standards and technical expertise; both Schengen Area and Russian authorities should expect to question each other in a spirit of mutual respect and trust as they develop common steps towards a visa-free regime.
He noted about one-third of all Schengen visas issued go to Russian citizens.
European Tour Operators Association
ETOA has stepped up its activity on this front in the last 18 months.
A survey produced in 2010 into visa processing has been followed by a series of seminars, and meetings with the Schengen authorities, the UK, and the Irish governments.
The European Commission has asked for specific feedback, a point echoed by director general Manservisi at the Russian seminar.
With this in mind, ETOA has launched a simple survey looking at four areas of visa processing for the major markets of China, India, Indonesia, Russia, and South Africa.
The survey is designed for tour operators and travel agents.