A resurgence in the number of Russian tourists coming to Phuket has piqued hopes for a Russian revival pumping much-needed life-blood back into the country’s critical tourism industry.
Fueling interest in the revitalized tourist market are more than six consecutive months of over 20 percent growth in the number of arrivals from Russia, and the fact that the “new” Russians are spending more, wrote Anton Makhrov for The Phuket News.
Phuket is experiencing two trends: a short term spike in the number of Russians tourists arriving on cheap package tours, but also an undercurrent of longer-term growth that began six months ago where the focus is on the growing trend for more, higher-spending Russian tourists.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MOT) reported 599,140 travellers from Russia visited Thailand in January-July, up 19.39 percent from same period last year. In July alone the arrivals from Russia grew 20.02 percent, nearly doubling the average growth rate of 10.85 percent recorded by MOT.
“The increase in the number of Russian tourists this year is undeniable, and the number of charter flights to Phuket is increasing,” notes Sathirapong Na Takuatoong, President of Phuket Tourist Association.
“The Russians coming now are different from the mass tourism Russians who came two years ago,” Sathirapong said.
However, while the new arrivals are spending more on their holidays, they are more selective about what they spend their money on and are seeking out value.
“I can’t say that these Russians will be higher quality than those who came two years ago, but they are spending more — about THB5,000 per person and day,” Sathirapong noted.
Russia ranks sixth on the list of Thailand’s largest tourism markets and tops the list for those coming from non-Asian countries. Thailand’s five top international groups of tourists hail from China, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and India — are all within the Asia region, while Russia is the number one market outside it, outstripping even Europe, Australia and the U.S. in terms of volume, and often in terms of length of stay and tourist spending too.
Tanes Petsuwan, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Executive Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, stated earlier this year that, while the overall volume of Russian arrivals is now lower than in 2012-2014, their overall “quality” is improving, with Russians now spending more on hotel accommodation and activities.
According to the TAT, spending by each Russian visitor to Thailand in 2013 stood at an average of THB3,800 a day. That amount has risen to THB4,500 — about THB300 more than the average spending by European tourists visiting Phuket. As Sathirapong noted, Phuket is enjoying about THB5,000 a day.
The TAT expects to see a clear shift in terms of quality versus mass market tourists from Russia this year, predicting that quality tourists will form 50 percent of total Russian visitors, up from 30 percent, meaning that more clients will be spending on luxury hotels and villas, spas, high-end restaurants and entertainment venues, Tanes said.
Phuket is their primary destination, with many now visiting Krabi province and Khao Lak in Phang Nga province, he added.
According to major Russian tour operator Intourist, the volume of visitors to Phuket grew by 30 percent, in January-May, while Koh Chang enjoyed an increase of 5 percent, and Koh Samui and Krabi remained level, with Pattaya being the biggest loser.
“Phuket shows steady growth while Pattaya is on the decline,” agrees Anna Malinina from Natali Tours. The average price for bookings to Phuket through Natali Tours hovers around USD1,000 (THB34,000), while the average duration of trip was about 10-12 nights, she said.
The resurgence in Russian tourist interest in Phuket has been attributed to several factors beyond Phuket’s attraction, including the value of the ruble declining in 2014, tours to Egypt and Turkey being suspended following a terror incident over the Sinai Peninsular and a political conflict between Moscow and Ankara last year.
Yet even Russia’s Ambassador to Thailand Kirill Barsky noted earlier this year, “As the economic situation gradually stabilises, people begin to live, begin to do business in a new reality, plan their winter and summer vacations. There appear signs of Russian tourists coming back to Thailand.”
Whether the trend of Phuket attracting higher-spending Russians is sustainable remains a matter of debate.
“The prices of the flights that have brought this latest surge seem to indicate that the tourists are more likely workers and couples,” Phuket Tourist Association President Sathirapong said.
However, he noted that the steady climb in the number of new Russians arriving in Phuket has yet to be bolstered by the traditional Russian family holiday period.
“The families will come at the end of the year, as they usually arrive from about Dec. 25 to Jan. 23 every year, during their long vacation season. This trend is well upheld by historical data,” he said.
“It is hard to say whether this trend is truly sustainable, as that depends on many things, but it is a good thing for now,” he added.