Aeroflot set to resume flights to Phuket
Hope is being regained that Thai tourism can attract 1 million Russian tourists this year as Aeroflot will resume direct flights to Phuket this winter after a pause of several months due to the Russian-Ukraine conflict.
As of July 26, the number of Russian visitors to Thailand stood at 76,739. Most entered the country during the first quarter before Russia's invasion of Ukraine escalated, which prompted the European Union (EU) to impose aviation sanctions against Russia.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said Aeroflot has confirmed the resumption of the Moscow to Phuket service in the winter schedule, starting from Oct 30 with a daily service.
Aeroflot and several other Russian carriers suspended flights to the island since March this year.
"In discussions with tour operators focusing on this market, they are confident about demand to Thailand. The only problem is the lack of connectivity. If Aeroflot can resume direct services as planned, while more airlines could follow in the next few months, we can still anticipate an influx of tourists in the final quarter," said Mr Yuthasak.
He said many airlines from Thailand, such as Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia X, were interested in operating this route to replace Russian carriers, but due to sanctions from European countries, technical assistance such as maintenance and shipments of spare parts were also banned over the past few months, as well as insurance that would not provide coverage in such circumstances.
However, the EU on July 27 announced an exemption for the sharing of technical information in the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which includes any technical support related to repairs, development, manufacture, assembly, testing, maintenance, or any other technical services.
Mr Yuthasak said it has to clarify with related authorities again how this revised sanction from the EU could make any changes to the current aviation situation regarding Russia.
The number of international tourists to Thailand this year tallied 3.12 million between Jan 1 and July 26.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), said only 10% of 1,600 Atta members are able to restart their businesses at present.
Most of them have to shift from the Chinese and Russian markets to India and Malaysia, which were the top markets with 381,542 and 322,079 arrivals, respectively, as of July 26.
"Most tour operators remain closed, particularly 400 companies that previously focused on the Chinese market. However, as the outlook for the upcoming high season is promising, we have to prepare for resumption by restarting business matching in popular destinations like Phuket this month," said Mr Sisdivachr.
Atta will lead 170 tour operators to Phuket to have business matching with 70-80 local hotels this weekend.
He said tour operators and hotels have to work together to gauge the tourism demand in the final quarter and prepare their services to avoid a supply shortage as most hotels in Phuket have been shuttered for over two years.