Thousands of Russian tourists visiting Thailand are currently stranded without accessible funds due to sanctions imposed on Russia in connection with the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Thailand typically attracts large numbers of Russian tourists each year, but the Southeast Asian country now has many visitors who struggle to afford accommodation, with some resorting to sleeping in churches and on beaches.
A myriad of international sanctions imposed on Moscow are reaching Russians around the world after Russia invaded Ukraine last month. The sanctions have affected Russian businesses and led to the cancellation of scheduled flights with Russian airlines.
Russian banks have also been cut off from the vital global SWIFT system for receiving and sending money, while many visitors have been hit hard by the suspension of Visa and Mastercard services.
Russian family of 6
Oleg, who has chosen not to disclose his surname, is a teacher living in Thailand. He told VOA he helped Russian nationals on the popular holiday island of Koh Samui.
“Now my support work is mainly about giving information because a lot of people don’t know what to do, they have no idea. Some families ask me what can we do? I told them to go to the embassy in Koh Samui, I told them when and how to go there. They said (the embassy) couldn’t help,” Oleg told VOA.
According to Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), 6,500 Russians remain stranded across Thailand, The Associated Press reported last week.
About 2,000 of the stranded Russians are on the island of Koh Samui.
Oleg told VOA he knew a family of six who were sleeping in a church after being forced out of their hotel after being unable to pay the bill.
“This family is good, very friendly, they have four children, but the mother and father have a problem. Now a church in Thailand, they tried to help them.”
The Thai government is working with the Russian consulate in the country to help those stranded, and there are preliminary indications that shelter and repatriation flights could be offered.
Local reports indicate that tourism businesses are also considering other payment methods to further help tourists in the country. And to help alleviate short-term issues, Russian and Ukrainian tourists to the country can now extend their visa for 30 days and without the usual $56 fee.
Ksenia is a Russian tourist visiting Thailand with her husband. She told VOA about the difficulties she faced because of the sanctions.
“I came without a return ticket and the flight to Russia now costs more than double the pre-war price. We withdrew as much money as possible while (the) cards were still working, despite the very bad exchange rates. But to buy tickets or book accommodation in the usual way, you still need a card.
“Most of my income was in rubles, and its value has dropped dramatically. Also, our cards don’t work at all,” she added.
She says she doesn’t know what to do next. “Not only have my travel plans come to a halt, but my whole life has been turned upside down. I don’t want to go back to Russia because I am strongly against this war and I don’t want to be around people who support it. My heart is with Ukraine,” she added.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Ukrainian expatriates and tourists have demonstrated in Thailand to demand an end to the war. Demonstrations took place outside the Russian Embassy in the capital Bangkok and in other places across the country. At a rally in February, several Ukrainians told VOA that their families were suffering because of Russian military attacks.
The Thai government remained neutral in the face of the Russian invasion despite neighboring Southeast Asian countries Singapore and Indonesia condemning the move. This stance is likely due to reliance on foreign arrivals from Russia, veteran Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk previously told VOA.
“I think Thailand has good relations with Russia. Russian tourism businesses make up a large portion of Western tourists to Thailand.
Recent events in Ukraine will deal a heavy blow to Thailand as its economy slowly recovers from the effects of the global pandemic.
Tourism accounted for around 11% of Thailand’s gross domestic product, and around 20% of Thais were employed in tourism, according to the Bank of Thailand in 2019. The economy shrank 6.1% in 2020 during the restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, but rebounded in the fourth quarter of 2021 after exports rose and tourist arrivals returned.
According to Stuart McDonald, founder of travel guide Travelfish.org, the drop in the number of Russian visitors to Thailand will affect its crucial tourist economy.
“Thailand needs to reevaluate its tourism forecast to take into account that as long as the invasion of Ukraine continues, the number of Russians visiting the country will be extremely limited and should not be considered significant to the country’s tourism record. for 2022,” the travel editor told VOA.
Russian visitors accounted for the largest block of arrivals in February with 17,599 arrivals, according to the Public Health Ministry. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, their numbers have rapidly dwindled.
“Although overshadowed by the Chinese market, pre-pandemic Russian inbound tourists were the largest group entering Thailand from Europe in 2018. Although their numbers fluctuated somewhat over the years, they remained an important flow for Thailand’s tourism economy,” McDonald added. .