Starting from November 1, Thailand will grant Russian tourists visa-free stays for up to 90 days, a significant extension from the previous 30-day limit. This move is aimed at accommodating Russian travelers seeking alternative destinations amid Moscow’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine, international sanctions, and travel restrictions, coupled with a devaluing ruble.
The decision to prolong the visa-free period was announced shortly before last week’s meeting between Thailand’s PM Srettha Thavisin and the Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
Thailand has already witnessed an influx of nearly one million Russian visitors this year, and the government hopes this extension will further boost their numbers during the peak season from November to March.
Igor Shchedrov, the general manager at Svoi Travel, a Thailand-based travel agency, shared insights into the challenges faced by Russian tourists.
“They don’t have a lot of choices for destinations when travelling because Europe closed for Russian tourists. They have some trouble with Visa and Mastercard, but now they can use UnionPay, a Chinese system, and a lot of customers pay by cash.”
Shchedrov also noted that it might take time for the news of this policy change to spread, as some people remain skeptical due to misinformation in Russian press.
Despite international sanctions, Thailand has continued doing business with Russia, refraining from voting in favour of a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion and actions in Ukraine. In the past, Thailand has been seen as a refuge for Russian nationals avoiding military drafts to fight in Ukraine. However, the situation has evolved, with fewer individuals seeking refuge in Thailand.
Nithee Seeprae, deputy governor for Marketing Communications at the Tourism Authority Thailand, indicated that the decision to extend Russian tourist visas was driven by high demand.
“Most of them prefer to stay longer. So, to make it easy for everyone, we expanded the visa.”
Gary Bowerman, a tourism analyst based in Kuala Lumpur, noted that Thailand aims to attract more Russian tourists as the region becomes increasingly competitive. He pointed out that while Russia is expected to deliver around 1 million tourists to Thailand in 2023, they also explore competing destinations like Bali, Malaysia and Vietnam. By extending the visa-free period, Thailand hopes to encourage Russian tourists to spend more time and money exploring various parts of the country during the peak winter season.
With the peak tourist season commencing in November, hotels in popular destinations like Phuket are gearing up for an influx of Russian visitors. Indeed, without Russian visitors to Phuket, the island’s arrival numbers would be less than 50% of the numbers pre-Covid.
Thailand’s decision to extend visa-free stays for Russian tourists was made in anticipation of last week’s meeting between PM Srettha and President Putin at the Belt and Road Initiative forum in Beijing. The leaders discussed enhancing trade and cultural ties, further strengthening the close relationship between Thailand and Russia.
However, the move received mixed reactions on social media due to Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and Western sanctions. Despite these challenges, experts maintain that the relationship between Bangkok and Moscow remains robust, emphasising the need for broader cooperation beyond visa extensions.
In September, Russian visitors to Phuket took the top position in international arrivals again after China led the way for the past 4 months.