Russian tourists unable to use credit cards

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Russian tourists stranded in India are running short of cash with no access to bank accounts, useless credit cards and a depreciating ruble following western sanctions, two government officials said.

As India and Russia deliberate on an alternative payment mechanism, Indian tour operators have urged the Centre to expedite the process. The services export promotion council, too, has sought a waiver on the $100 visa extension fees, as the visas of several Ukrainian and Russian tourists left stranded in India, including in Goa and Kerala, are set to expire, the officials added.

Meanwhile, hotel and travel operators have approached the directorate general of foreign trade and department of commerce seeking its intervention as several tourists who have returned to Russia are yet to pay their dues in full.

With international payment service providers such as Visa, American Express and Mastercard suspending their Russian operations, credit cards on the networks have been blocked. Though Russian tourists have applied for fresh credit cards, the applications are pending as banks are yet to issue cards using China’s UnionPay or Russia’s MIR.

Mint earlier reported that Russia and India were exploring linking Unified Payments Interface (UPI) with the Bank of Russia’s Faster Payments System, and integrating RuPay and MIR cards in the national payments infrastructure.

RuPay, which is operated by the National Payments Corp. of India, facilitates online transactions, while MIR is a Russian government sponsored card for local payments.

“We received several queries from tourism and travel operators over pending payments from Russian tourists. In some cases, they have returned to Russia from Goa or Kerala but are yet to make full payment. This will get resolved as part of an alternative payment mechanism,” said one of the officials seeking anonymity.

“Before the war started (23 February), nearly 550 Russian tourists were landing in India every week through chartered flights or approximately 3,000 tourists a month. Several Russian and Ukrainian tourists are stranded in different parts of India, particularly in Goa and Kerala,” said Karan Rathore, vice chairman, SEPC.

“Tourists are now facing issues including currency devaluation, credit cards not being accepted and also ease of travel to India is no longer the same. Russia is nationalizing Aero float and all flights have been suspended,” added Rathore.

Email queries to the spokespersons for India’s ministry of commerce and industry and the Embassy of Russia in New Delhi remained unanswered.

Russia’s ruble strengthened on Friday against the US dollar to close at nearly 100 after falling to a record low of 120 earlier this month after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will sell gas to “unfriendly countries” in rubles.

However, tourists holding an account with Russia’s Sberbank are not facing a problem as it has a branch in India. But those having an account in Citibank for instance are facing a problem, said a tour operator.

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