Cashless and flightless Russian tourists stuck in Thailand

BANGKOK (AP) — Thousands of Russian tourists are stranded in Thai resorts because of the war in Ukraine, many unable to pay their bills or return home due to sanctions and canceled flights.

The crisis in Europe has also put a damper on plans to revive the Southeast Asian nation’s tourism industry, which has welcomed more visitors from Russia than any of its neighbors before the pandemic hit. hit.

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

Some 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 Public Health Ministry. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, their numbers drastically decreased.

Yuthasak said Russians face two main problems: cancellations of their return flights by airlines that have stopped flying to Russia and the suspension of financial services, especially by credit card companies that have adhered to the sanctions against Moscow. There are also those who prefer to delay their return.

“Some airlines still serve Russia, but travelers have to transit through another country. We are trying to coordinate and find flights for them,” Yuthasak said.

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

He added that efforts were also being made to find alternative payment methods for Russian tourists.

Siwaporn Boonruang, a volunteer translator for Russians stranded in Krabi, said some could not pay their bills because they could no longer use Visa or Mastercard credit cards.

Many have cash and those with UnionPay credit cards, which are issued by a Chinese financial services company, can still use them, but cryptocurrency payment is not allowed, he said. she declared.

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

The Thai government has offered 30-day visa extensions without payment and is trying to find low-cost alternative accommodation for those forced to stay for an extended period.

War-related problems in Ukraine have dampened hopes for Thailand’s economic recovery. Officials hope to see the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic diminish by July, even as daily cases are currently at record highs, driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Later this year, Thai authorities plan to drop most quarantine and testing regulations that were put in place to combat the spread of the virus, which would make it easier for foreign travelers to enter.

Thailand may have to lower its tourist arrivals and revenue targets this year due to the ripple effects of higher oil prices and inflation on global travel, Yuthasak told the Bangkok Post newspaper.

“Tourism remains a key driver in reviving our economy, although revenues have been hampered by negative factors,” he said.

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

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