More than 7,000 tourists from Russia and Ukraine in Thailand are allowed to extend their visas without an application fee as the government is considering measures to offer humanitarian assistance to those affected by international flight cancellations.
Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration asked related authorities to explore the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and propose to the cabinet meeting today solutions to help tourists stranded in Thailand.
He said there are roughly 7,000 tourists from the two countries in four tourism areas, comprising Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Krabi.
To mitigate the short-term impact, tourists can extend their 30-day visa without paying the application fee, which costs 1,900 baht for both Ukrainians and Russians.
It’s one of several measures officials are implementing to help visitors stranded as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
For tourists who are unable to return home, whether due to suspended flights or political unrest and cannot afford to stay in Thailand, the government plans to offer them shelter.
The possible locations are Phuket and Pattaya, depending on a survey tourism operators were sending out to their guests this week.
The report goes on to say that tourism operators are now working with the Chinese payment platform, UnionPay, to help tourists affected by sanctions that prevent them from using cards issued by Russian banks. Some tourism associations have suggested the government allow the use of cryptocurrencies for tourists unable to make payments any other way.
Mr Yuthasak said another concern is tourists’ health insurance, with some private hospitals reluctant to offer medical services for Covid-19 patients from Russia because of financial sanctions and interrupted payment methods.
The government has to seek solutions to ensure that patients will receive proper treatment if needed, he said.
For those who want to return, the Russian government may arrange repatriation flights for their citizens, however, Thailand will not deport any tourists back home without their consent.
Bhummikitti Raktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said flight cancellations by two Russian airlines — S7 Airlines and Aeroflot — affected the Russian market as their direct routes covered a large part of Russia, sharing around 70% of this market with Phuket.
Aeroflot operates direct flights from Moscow to Bangkok, the capital of the Kingdom of Thailand, and the island of Phuket. The flight from Moscow to Bangkok takes about 9 hours. The Moscow-Phuket flight is a little longer, about 9 hours and 30 minutes.
Since Thailand began to reopen for international tourists – gradually from 1 July 2021, more than 57,000 Russian tourists have visited the kingdom.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, six airlines were operating direct flights from major Russian cities to Krabi, amounting to 63 flights and a total of 50,382 Russian visitor arrivals. The new arrived S7 Airlines’ inaugural flight from Novosibirsk touched down at Krabi International Airport just a few weeks ago.
At present, there are 3,500-4,000 Russian tourists and 300-400 travellers from Ukraine remaining in Phuket, said Mr Bhummikitti.
From March 1-6, Russia was the top market for Andaman resorts with a total of 3,500 visitors. The average length of stay was around 10 days per trip.
During the next two weeks, tourism operators, state authorities and the Russian consulate have to work together to facilitate tourists who remain in the country, he said.
The tourist shelter in Phuket might see demand from Ukrainians who want to seek temporary asylum if they cannot return to their country, said Mr Bhummikitti.
He said even though 30% of the Russian market flies via the Middle East, most of this market may have to cancel their trips because of surging costs from the higher exchange rate and sanctions.