Thousands of Russian tourists in Thailand are reportedly struggling to find a way home, as international sanctions imposed over the Russia-Ukraine crisis hit holidaymakers.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, a slew of international sanctions was imposed on businesses and banks, with some Russian airlines canceling flights and global payment firms suspending services. Russian tourists have been among the largest groups of visitors returning to Thailand’s beach resorts since pandemic restrictions were lifted, but many are now stranded without a return ticket.
According to Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), 3,100 Russians remain stranded in Phuket, with 2,000 in Samui and smaller numbers in Krabi, Phangnga, and Bangkok.
While Thailand has not prohibited Russian flights, international airspace restrictions have caused some companies, including Russia’s flagship Aeroflot, to cancel services, forcing tourists to seek alternative routes, such as through the Middle East with different carriers.
Many tourists have also been impacted by the suspension of Visa and Mastercard operations. Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam said officials were considering using the Mir system, a Russian electronic fund transfer structure, as well as digital currencies.
Pandemic travel restrictions have affected Thailand tourism which contributes more than 75% of the current kingdom’s income, but restrictions were eased in 2022, resulting in a surge of visitors.
Thailand and Russia have had relatively positive relations toward each other since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1990s. According to the TAT, approximately 23,000 Russians visited Thailand in January of this year. Russian tourists previously accounted for the seventh-largest share of visitors to the kingdom, with approximately 1.5 million visiting Thailand in 2019.