Cashless and unable to fly, Russian tourists are stuck in Thailand

Thousands of Russian tourists have been stranded in Thailand’s beach resorts because of the war in Ukraine, many unable to pay their bills or return home due to sanctions and canceled flights

BANGKOK — Thousands of Russian tourists have been stranded in Thailand’s beach resorts because of the war in Ukraine, many unable to pay their bills or return home amid sanctions and canceled flights.

The crisis in Europe has also hit recovery plans for the Southeast Asian country’s tourism industry, which hosted more visitors from Russia than any of its neighbors before the pandemic hit.

About 6,500 Russian tourists are stuck in Phuket, Surat Thani, Krabi and Pattaya, four provinces that are popular beach resorts, in addition to 1,000 Ukrainians, Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told The Associated Press on Friday.

About 17,599 Russians made up the largest block of arrivals in February, accounting for 8.6% of a total of 203,970, according to the Health Ministry. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, their numbers dropped drastically.

“There are some airlines that still fly to Russia, but travelers have to transfer to another country. We’re trying to coordinate the flights and look for them,” Yuthasak said.

While almost all direct flights from Russia have been suspended, connections via major Middle East-based airlines are still available.

He said efforts are also being made to find alternative payment methods for Russian tourists.

Siwaporn Boonruang, a volunteer translator for Russians stranded in Krabi, said some are unable to pay their bills because they can no longer use Visa or Mastercard credit cards.

Many have cash, and those with UnionPay credit cards issued by a Chinese financial services company can still use them, but paying with cryptocurrency isn’t allowed, she said.

Many hotels have helped by offering discounted rates, she added.

The Thai government has been offering 30-day visa extensions without pay and is trying to find low-cost alternative accommodation for people forced to stay for longer periods.

Troubles surrounding the war in Ukraine have boosted Thailand’s hopes for an economic recovery. Officials hope the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic will subside by July, although daily cases are currently reaching record highs, fueled by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Thai authorities expect most quarantine and testing regulations in place to combat the spread of the virus will be lifted later this year, which would make it easier for foreign travelers to enter the country.

Thailand may have to lower its tourist arrivals and revenue targets this year because of the knock-on effects of rising oil prices and inflation on global travel, Yuthasak was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post newspaper.

“Tourism remains an important engine for revitalizing our economy, even as negative factors have hampered revenues,” he said.

According to the report, Thailand had forecast to bring in a total of 1.28 trillion baht ($38.4 billion) in revenue from foreign and domestic tourists this year.

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