'Coffee visa' may bring Turkey and Greece closer

03/12/2013

The visa would cover daily travel, and is designed to increase relations between the two countries, experts say.

By Menekse Tokyay for SETimes in Istanbul -- 03/12/13

photo

In 2012, Greek authorities initiated a pilot programme to facilitate visas for Turkish citizens visiting the Aegean islands. [AFP]

Authorities in Turkey and Greece are working on adopting a new visa procedure in a bid to increase the tourist flow between the two countries.

The idea was put forth by Turkish tourism agencies during a meeting in Rhodes, co-organised by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies and the South Aegean Regional Governorate.

The short-term visa proposal was positively received by South Aegean Region Governor Giannis Mahairidis, who said that this topic would be the first dossier they submit to the upcoming Greek EU presidency.

Known as a "coffee visa" programme, the initiative is based on the geographic proximity between Turkey and Greece. The visa will cover daily visits, and will not require any visa procedures.

According to the data of association, about 509,000 Greeks visited Turkey in the first nine months of 2013, while about 133,000 Turks visited Greece from January to April.

Gerald Knaus, founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative, said the short-term visa project could boost bilateral ties between the two countries.

"This is obviously all good, and the more liberal the arrangements are between Greece and Turkey the better," Knaus told SETimes.

Knaus said similar projects have been carried out in the past, and resulted in promising outcomes.

"Poland managed to have very liberal arrangements for people living near the Polish Schengen border in Ukraine, and Finland has managed to benefit enormously from hundreds of thousands of Russians travelling easily from St. Petersburg to Southern Finland for day trips," he added.

However, Knaus said this does not replace the bigger prize, which is full visa liberalisation for all Turkish passport holders.

"It is very much to be hoped that Turkey and the EU will launch the full visa liberalisation dialogue as soon as possible. This has worked for the Balkans; it might now lead to visa-free travel for Moldovans very soon, and it will also work for Turkey if seriously pursued by the Turkish authorities," he said.

In 2012, Greek authorities initiated a pilot programme to facilitate visas for Turkish citizens visiting the Aegean islands, Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes and Kos, near Turkey. The programme allowed Turkish tourists to obtain their visas at the ports of the islands for visits less than 15 days.

South Aegean Region Governor Ioannis Machairidis told SETimes that since the distance between Turkey and the Greek islands is so small, one would find it easy to cross the sea just for a cup of coffee in Rhodes or Marmaris.

"In time, we might find a way to make this possible. Since the Schengen pilot programme has been successful, further simplification of the process is one of our goals," Machairidis said.

"These last few years, an increasing number of citizens from each country visit the other and we have formed a mutually profitable partnership, which we hope to expand in the years to come," he added.

Both countries are examining the reports for the second year of the Schengen pilot programme, and will soon discuss plans for expansion.

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"Eventually, we will agree on the standard documentation that will suffice for a quick trip from Turkey to our islands and vice versa. As soon as the evaluation process is finished, we will schedule meetings with the Schengen Committee to discuss our proposals," Machairidis said.

Basaran Ulusoy, the head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, told SETimes that the "coffee visa" would probably be implemented next summer.

"With the initiation of this visa, we are expecting an increase in Turkish tourists going to the Greek islands on a daily basis. And this would bring a significant added value to the Greek economy," Ulusoy said.

What other sectors could benefit from co-operation between Turkey and Greece? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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