An innkeeper in Bangkok’s Sathorn area has been desperately looking to hire more staff to cater to the increasing number of tourists at his place.
Crediting the Russian tourists for this windfall, he said 25 of his 30 rooms have been taken up by travelers from Russia, with the average length of stay being between 10-15 days.
The innkeeper, who wished not to disclose this name or address so as to keep his Russian tourists safe, told Skift that “Russians have helped bring business back to establishments like mine that had been battered by Covid.”
The arrival of sanction-hit Russian tourists increased sevenfold in Thailand in November to 109,000 compared to 16,000 in September and this has been facilitated largely by the resumption of direct flights.
The demand from Russian tourists has also surged forward bookings. Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, expects more than one million Russian tourists in 2023, closer to the 2019 figure of 1.5 million.
Direct Flights and Increased Connectivity
Russian operators like Azur Air and Ikar Airline have started operating charter flights from Moscow, Novosibirsk and Vladivostok to Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
On November 12, Russian state carrier Aeroflot said it would add 14 more flights a week to Phuket.
Between November 1 last year and January 2, Russia made up the largest source market for Phuket tourism as the island welcomed 167,698 Russians, according to Phuket immigration.
Before Covid-19, China had been Phuket’s biggest tourist market.
What’s more, in the first quarter of 2022, Russians bought the maximum number of apartments in Phuket buying 74 properties worth $7.3 million, according to a Thai real estate consultancy firm.
Thailand: A Friend of Russia
Ever since the Ukraine conflict started, traveling has become an ordeal for us Russians, said Katarina, a tourist holidaying in Thailand.
“Many countries have closed their airspace to Russian carriers and then there are some destinations who are not giving us visas,” she said, calling Thailand a friend of Russia.
Katrina and her boyfriend had to cancel their Thailand trip in March last year as hotels in Thailand were then calling for a cash-only policy from Russian tourists.
However, while she’s glad that the past few months gave her a chance to explore domestic tourism within Russia, she was quick to hop on a plane once direct flights started from her hometown in Vladivostok to Thailand.
“We are only too glad to be able to escape the biting winter cold at home, where the temperature is around -5 degrees centigrade. This weekend we head off to the sunny beaches of Phuket,” she said, as she highlighted how a strong rouble against the Thai baht has made holidaying more affordable.
Thailand’s New Entry Rules
However, in preparation for the arrival of Chinese travelers — its biggest source market — Thailand’s aviation regulator on Saturday had brought back its requirement for all incoming international travelers to be doubly vaccinated, a rule that had been scrapped in October.
Also, those without a vaccination certificate would need to submit a doctor’s report stating recovery from Covid-19 or furnish a medical reason for not receiving the vaccine.
On Monday, Thailand scrapped the measures.
Speaking during the weekend before the new entry requirements were withdrawn, a Bangkok travel agent had said he expects the government to revisit the rules as unlike other countries the Thai government cannot afford to not listen to the pleas of the tourism industry.
Why Thailand Needs Russian Tourists
Russia was Thailand’s third largest source market for tourism arrivals, right after Malaysia and India, according to the November 2022 figures.
And now as India imposes fresh Covid restrictions on arrivals from Thailand, calling for a mandatory PCR Covid test not older than 72 hours before departure, Indians are either delaying their trips or cancelling them.
This could lead to Russia moving up the tourism arrival charts.
Thailand knew that to prop up its Covid-battered economy it would have to allow entry to Russian tourists.
According to a bilateral agreement between the two countries Russians do not require a visa to enter Thailand. Through this visa exemption, Russian tourists are allowed to stay in the country for a period of 30 days.
What’s more, from October 1 onwards, Thailand extended the visa-exemption stay for 64 countries, including Russia, from 30 to 45 days.
However, Russians arriving in the country in droves comes with its own set of problems. Two Russian men were recently arrested for begging on the streets of southern Thailand.
The men held a placard that read, “Help! I am fleeing war in Russia. My money has run out. I do not want to return to the war. Can you help by donating? Do you have any free food for me?”
Thailand Doubles Tourism Target
However, the innkeeper in Bangkok called such incidents few and far between.
Even smaller hotels are now looking to cater to these tourists by offering rooms at discounted rates. One such advertisement read, “Room for rent, $22.5 for a day, $80 for four nights, $284 for a month. Electricity, water, Wi-Fi, cleaning, linen and towels included.”
Thailand’s visitor arrivals for 2022 exceeded the 10-million mark generating around $15 billion in international tourism revenue.
The country has doubled its tourism target for 2023 to 20 million, and expects international tourism revenue to touch around $45 billion closer to its pre-pandemic earnings of $70 billion.