Visa free regime with Greek islands no picnic for travelers

June 08, 2012, Friday/ 16:26:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Greece, which has been working with EU officials to remove visa requirements for Turkish tourists at some of its islands in the Aegean Sea, on Wednesday officially launched a no-visa regime for five islands, but reports from passengers, tourism agencies and travelers indicate that formalities that have to be observed in gaining entry to the islands have not reduced.

On Thursday, the first tourists traveling under the new regime took a boat from Ayvalık, Balıkesir, to Lesbos. But the number of people who exited Turkey was limited to 10. However, reports indicate that there is not much of a point to the visa-free regime, as the procedures for making use of it are exactly the same as those for obtaining a Schengen visa. The permissions to enter the islands -- which are in practice visas -- are given for a single entry and valid for 15 days. Furthermore, agencies note that officials in Greece still demand a large number of documents prior to visits to the island, with no significant difference from the time, effort and money put into acquiring a Schengen visa.

The first five islands which will be part of the new scheme as a pilot project are Lesbos, Rhodes, Samos, Chios and Kos. Turkish passengers however still have to submit a Xeroxed copy of the first page of their passport, copies of their ferry tickets, two photos and a filled-out Greek visa application form, hotel reservation confirmation and 60 euros (for travelers older than 12), the fee set by the EU for Schengen vises. The only discernable difference is that travelers now can get entry permits by submitting their documents only two days prior to the visit, whereas for a Schengen visa, EU consulates and embassies usually need more time to issue the document.

Turkish travelers to Greek islands still have more strings attached though: They legally have to carry 300 euros on their person for visits up to three days, and at least 500 euros for visits up to a week. This is a legal requirement from Greek authorities, agencies said.

Tourism officials note the changes are not expected to increase tourist mobility between the Turkish coast and the islands.

Fatosh Lazar, an employee of the Lesbos-based Mytilini Tours, said the new regime in this current form would hardly excite any interest, expressing her disappointment with the new rules.

Eşref Jale, the owner of Jale Tourism, based in Ayvalık, said the new rules in no way amount to a visa-free regime. “In addition to all these documents, they require official health insurance from travelers visiting the islands. This should have been done in a spirit of relaxing the rules. It should be that any travelers taking off from Ayvalık with their passports should be able to get a stamp on their passports at Lesbos. I really don't believe there will be any increase in the number of Turkish visitors to the Greek islands because of the new rules.”

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