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.

  • According to the Phuket Express, Russians formed the largest group of tourists in Phuket in early November.

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

Russian tourists are flocking to Phuket – Thailand’s largest island – after direct flights from Russia resumed in late October.

Numbers fell after the Russian 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, with 18,370 out of 75,247 international arrivals, according to Phuket Express.

Association of Thai Travel Agents President Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn told a Thai newspaper that Phuket tour operators were unprepared for the sudden rush 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 October 30 and was met by airport staff celebrating 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 made up 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 their numbers have plummeted since Russia invaded Ukraine. In January, 24,000 Russian tourists arrived in Phuket. Those numbers dropped to between 3,200 and 4,200 a month between May and September following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to The Thaiger.

International flights from Russia have been largely suspended as Russian airlines struggled to find supplies due to sanctions.

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

Aeroflot is opening flights to Phuket from the far eastern city of Vladivostok, while Siberia Airlines will be carrying passengers from Irkutsk, a mid-sized city in Siberia.

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

According to DW, the country aims to welcome 1 million Russian tourists in 2022, with numbers likely to peak next winter as Russians trade cold for tropical beaches.

Aeroflot, Ikar Airlines and the Tourism Authority of Thailand did not immediately respond to insider requests for comment.

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