Russian Tourists Flock to Thailand, Air Travel Remains Patchy

Russia was one of the main source markets for the Thai tourism industry before the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, although the number of tourists arriving from Russia has increased in the last two months, Pattaya operators remain concerned about the slow resumption of charter flights to U-tapao airport.

The latest reports showed that the U-tapao airport is facing difficulties meeting the current demand, as its capacity is only at 50% of the pre-pandemic level.

Charter flights operated by Azur Air currently depart from 11 Russian cities to the airport, with shared seats by different travel agencies.

According to Chonburi Tourism Board Chairman Thanet Supornsahasrangsi, one or two of those flights arrive at U-tapao airport daily.

However, Mr. Thanet said the flight frequency would increase if the load factor was strong enough.

Russian tourists often escape their country’s cold winters to beach destinations, including many in Thailand. Mr. Thanet explained that most are looking for accommodation in four and five-star beachfront hotels in Pattaya.

Tour operators insist that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has not really affected the number of Russians visiting the kingdom, he added. Furthermore, the ruble has recovered at a similar rate as before the war.

The main markets for Pattaya tour operators include visitors from Russia, India, Vietnam, and South Korea.

Chinese travelers, who also made up a major contingent for Thai tour operators, have been hampered by strict border controls Beijing has imposed as part of its zero-Covid policy.

However, tour operators have reported an 80% increase in forward bookings in December and January, driven mainly by demand from Russian tourists.

As tourism businesses continue to request promotional prices to heat the market, the average room rate has remained 30-40% lower than in pre-pandemic periods.

According to Mr. Thanet, Pattaya could receive at least 70,000 Russians from December to March next year. The destination also often benefits from Russians visiting Bangkok, as they often look forward to spending time there, too.

Data from the Tourism and Sports Ministry showed that Russian arrivals registered a record 44,314 in October, making it one of the top three European markets for the month.

The figures represent an increase of 78% compared to the previous month and 538% from July after Thailand fully lifted Covid-19 restrictions. Before the war broke out in Ukraine, specifically in January this year, the kingdom received 23,760 Russians.

By 2023, the ministry expects 377,472 Russian arrivals, including 171,072 who will travel on direct scheduled flights and 150,000 set to arrive on direct charter flights. Another 56,400 could come on connecting flights.

Meanwhile, the outlook for the Russian market remains positive as direct flights from more Russian cities arrive in Pattaya, Phuket, and Bangkok via U-tapao airport.

Many Russian tourists have also chosen to travel to Thailand as other European countries have barred them from entering.

In Phuket, the recovery rate of the Russian market reached 80% of the pre-pandemic figure in November, Phuket Tourism Association Advisory Chairman Bhumikitti Ruktaengam said.