Thailand offers aid to stranded tourists
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 on Tuesday 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.
For tourists who are unable 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.
Regarding transactions via Russian banks and credit cards that are blocked, tourism operators are working with UnionPay, a payment platform from China, to offer this channel to Russian visitors.
Ukrainians in Thailand stage an anti-war protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Bangkok on Monday morning. Apichit Jinakul
Tourism associations also suggest the government consider the emergency use of cryptocurrencies to let tourists have an alternative payment system in this situation and for similar crises in the future.
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 -- definitely affected the Russian market as their direct routes covered a large part of Russia, sharing around 70% of this market with Phuket.
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.