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Russian Tourist Flock to Phuket Thailand Despite War in Ukraine

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Russian Tourist Flock to Phuket Thailand

Travel by Russians to Thailand has increased sharply, despite effective entry restrictions imposed by the EU and other G20 countries. Prior to the outbreak of the Ukraine war, the European Union was a popular port of call for Russians.

They had preferential access to the bloc and could visit easily for tourism or business under the terms of a visa agreement signed in 2007 when relations were significantly warmer.

However, since Russia launched its invasion on February 24, border controls have tightened as the Kremlin’s relations with Western nations have reached post-Cold War lows.

Regular flights between Russia and Phuket, Thailand have resumed after being suspended since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The number of charter flights from Russia has increased as well. As the international community maintains economic sanctions against Russia, led by the United States and European countries, some have criticized Thailand’s apparent willingness to accept Russian tourists.

Russian tourists are returning in large numbers to Thailand on chartered flights and using credit cards issued outside the country to avoid payment difficulties, accelerating the Southeast Asian country’s gradual tourism recovery.

Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, reports more than 44,000 Russians visited Thailand in October, compared to less than 10,000 in the months following the start of the war in Ukraine in February.

According to Thai officials, the resumption of direct flights between Moscow and Phuket at the end of last month will attract more tourists.

Russian Tourist Flock to Phuket Thailand Despite War in Ukraine

Charter flight to Phuket Thailand

According to the Phuket Tourist Association, chartered flights operated by airlines such as Azur Air and commercial flights operated by flag carrier Aeroflot PJSC have been bringing people from Moscow, Novosibirsk, and Vladivostok to Bangkok and popular beach destinations such as Pattaya and Phuket.

“Russian tourist arrivals are currently ranked first in Phuket,” said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the advisory chairman of the association. “The arrivals gap between Russian and Indian tourists has widened significantly.”

According to Bhummikitti, approximately 20% of every 10,000 foreign visitors flying direct to Phuket are Russians. The island’s pristine beaches and national parks are well-known.

This is in stark contrast to the nearly complete absence of Russians for about six months after airlines were forced to halt flights and tourists found it difficult to make payments following the suspension of most Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system and the ruble’s depreciation.

In the absence of Chinese tourists, who were the largest group of visitors to Thailand prior to the pandemic, the return of Russian tourists is seen as hastening the country’s tourism recovery. And this is critical for keeping an economy on track as trade risks from a global slowdown grow.

Russian Tourist Flock to Phuket Thailand Despite War in Ukraine

Over 147,000 Russian tourists visited Thailand

According to Bhummikitti, Russians who spend at least 12 days in Phuket use credit cards issued in other countries and cash to pay for trips and shopping. According to Thanet Supornsahasrangsi, president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council, the majority of financial transactions are settled in Dubai and other Middle Eastern destinations.

Thanet said, Pattaya, a popular beach town 150 kilometres east of Bangkok, will see a surge of tourists in the coming months due to advance bookings.

During the first ten months of this year, over 147,000 Russian tourists visited Thailand. However, that is only about a tenth of the 1.5 million visitors who visited the country in 2019 and spent $3.3 billion, making them the third-highest spenders, according to official data.

Thailand expects more than 20 million visitors next year, more than doubling from this year, but only about half of pre-pandemic arrivals.

On Saturday, eight airports and two immigration checkpoints in Thailand held celebrations to welcome foreign visitors as the country recorded 10 million foreign tourist arrivals for the year.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry organized the “Amazing Thailand 10 Million Celebrations” event to highlight the industry’s steady recovery following a Covid-induced downturn that lasted more than two years.

Local dignitaries and tourism business leaders gathered at all seven international airports — Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, U-Tapao Rayong-Pataya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket, Krabi, and Samui — as well as the Sadao and Nong Khai border checkpoints.

Russian tourists were greeted and given souvenirs by Chon Buri governor Thawatchai Srithong, Rayong deputy governor Pirun Hemarak, and senior officials from the airport and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

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