Russian arrivals apt to rebound

Russian arrivals apt to rebound

Foreign tourists sunbathe at a beach in Pattaya, a top spot among Russian visitors. Thailand expects to welcome 1 million Russian tourists this year thanks to a strengthening rouble. NATTAPOL LOVAKIJ
Foreign tourists sunbathe at a beach in Pattaya, a top spot among Russian visitors. Thailand expects to welcome 1 million Russian tourists this year thanks to a strengthening rouble. NATTAPOL LOVAKIJ

Russian tourism in Thailand is expected to recover this year as the rouble has made gains on the back of rising oil prices.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) forecasts Russian tourist arrivals will reach 1 million this year.

The rouble, buoyed by a surge in oil prices, buys 60 satang at current rates, up from an average of 50 satang last year.

The number of Russian visitors began to rise in February and kept growing in March said Tanes Petsuwan, TAT's executive director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. That momentum is expected to continue throughout the year, he added.

The 13% increase in Russian visitors forecast by the TAT would be prominent relative to visitors from Europe as a whole, whose numbers are expected to increase by 6% to 5.66 million.

This boost would follow a rocky two years in which Russian arrivals dropped consistently, said Mr Tanes.

"I think the Russian tourist market has already bottomed out," he said. "Growth from now on may not be as sharp as it was in the past. We are likely to see a U shape from the growth of the Russian market."

In 2014, Russian arrivals fell to 1.6 million after the market peaked in 2013, when Thailand welcomed 1.7 million Russian travellers. Russian arrivals then nosedived to 884,085 in 2015. The effects of this drop were felt at major tourist destinations, especially Pattaya, which has long enjoyed a large Russian tourist presence.

Although Chinese arrivals have offset the drop in Russians travellers to Pattaya, they typically spend less money.

Despite the decrease in the number of Russian arrivals, the TAT found that their overall quality is improving, with Russian tourists now spending more on hotel accommodation and activities.

In 2013, spending by each Russian visitor stood at 3,800 baht a day. That amount has risen to 4,500 baht, or 300 baht higher than the European average.

Apart from dining out and frequenting drinking establishments, their entertainment choices are becoming more varied.

Spas, beauty-related services and cooking classes are becoming increasingly popular activities among female Russian tourists, said Mr Tanes.

Muay Thai bouts are another spectacle popular among male and female visitors from Russia alike, he added.

Such tourists usually stay at resort villas and luxury hotels. Phuket is their primary destination, with many now visiting Krabi province and Khao Lak in Phangnga province.

The TAT expects to see a clear shift in terms of quality versus mass market tourists from Russia later this year. It predicts that quality tourists will form 50% of total Russian visitors, up from 30%.

If the economic uptick continues, the proportion of quality Russian visitors may reach 55% by 2017, said Mr Tanes.

Although Vietnam has become a popular destination for Russian travellers, the TAT is confident it is a destination for low- and middle-level Russian tourists.

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