Thailand still wants Russian tourists – and direct flights make getting to Phuket easy

A beach in the Thai resort of Phuket.Mladen Antonov/Getty Images

  • Direct flights between Russia and Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, resumed on October 30.

  • Russians made up Phuket’s largest tourist group in early November, according to the Phuket Express.

  • Their arrival was celebrated as a boost to the island’s tourism-dependent economy.

Russian tourists flock to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, after direct flights from Russia resumed in late October.

Numbers fell in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Western sanctions reduced travel capacity, but Russian tourists are returning to Phuket in droves.

In the first 10 days of November, Russians made up Phuket’s largest tourist group, accounting for 18,370 of the 75,247 international arrivals, according to the Phuket Express.

President of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, told a Thai newspaper that tour operators in Phuket were not prepared for the sudden influx of arrivals.

The first direct flight from Moscow to Thailand since the outbreak of war in March was a charter flight operated by Ikar Airlines. It arrived in Phuket on Oct. 30 and received a reception from airport staff to celebrate the return of Russian tourism, according to local newspaper The Thaiger.

On the same day, the Russian state airline Aeroflot resumed direct flights to Thailand, India and the Maldives.

Phuket is heavily dependent on tourism. Before the pandemic, the travel industry accounted for about 80% of the island’s economy and provided more than 300,000 jobs, Insider previously reported.

Many of these tourists come from Russia, but the number fell sharply after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In January, 24,000 Russian tourists arrived in Phuket. These numbers dropped to between 3,200 and 4,200 a month between May and September after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to The Thaiger.

International flights from Russia were largely suspended as Russian airlines scramble for supplies due to sanctions.

Now that direct flights have returned, Russian airlines are rapidly expanding their routes to Thailand, according to The Thaiger.

Aeroflot will open flights to Phuket from the far eastern city of Vladivostok, while Siberia Airlines will carry passengers from Irkutsk, a medium-sized city in Siberia.

Thailand has taken a neutral stance on Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. It has not participated in bans or sanctions against Russian citizens and makes it easy for them to obtain visas.

The country aims to welcome 1 million Russian tourists per DW by 2022, with an expected peak in the coming winter as Russians trade the cold for tropical beaches.

Aeroflot, Ikar Airlines and Thailand’s tourism authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider.

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