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Thailand still wants Russian tourists – and direct flights are making it easy to get to Phuket

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Tourists in Phuket in March 2020

A beach in the Thai resort of Phuket.Mladen Antonov/Getty Images
  • Direct flights between Russia and Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, resumed on October 30.

  • Russians made up Phuket’s biggest group of tourists in early November, per the Phuket Express.

  • Their arrival was celebrated as a boost to the island’s tourism-dependent economy.

Russian tourists have been flocking to Phuket – Thailand’s largest island – after direct flights from Russia resumed at the end of October.

Numbers dipped in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Western sanctions reduced travel capacities, but Russian tourists are returning to Phuket in droves.

In the first 10 days of November, Russians made up Phuket’s biggest group of tourists accounting for 18,370 out of 75,247 international arrivals, according to the Phuket Express.

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President of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, told a Thai newspaper that tour operators in Phuket were unprepared for the sudden influx of arrivals.

The first direct flight from Moscow to Thailand since the war broke out in March was a charter flight by Ikar Airlines. It arrived in Phuket on October 30 and was met with a reception from airport staff celebrating the return of Russian tourism, according to the local newspaper The Thaiger.

On the same day, the Russian state-owned airline Aeroflot restarted direct flights to Thailand, India, and the Maldives.

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Phuket is heavily reliant on tourism. Before the pandemic, the travel industry accounted for about 80% of the island’s economy and provided more than 300,000 jobs, Insider previously reported.

Many of these tourists come from Russia, but numbers dropped sharply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In January, 24,000 Russian tourists arrived in Phuket. These numbers dipped to between 3,200 to 4,200 a month between May and September following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, per The Thaiger.

International flights out of Russia were largely suspended as sanctions left Russian airlines scrambling for supplies.

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Now that direct flights have returned, Russian airlines are fast expanding their routes to Thailand, according to The Thaiger.

Aeroflot is opening up services to Phuket from the far-eastern city of Vladivostok, while Siberia Airlines will carry passengers from Irkutsk, a mid-sized city in Siberia.

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Thailand has maintained a neutral stance on Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. It hasn’t participated in any bans or sanctions on Russian nationals and makes it easy for them to obtain visas.

The country aims to welcome 1 million Russian tourists in 2022, per DW, with numbers forecast to peak in the coming winter as Russians trade cold for tropical beaches.

Aeroflot, Ikar Airlines, and Thailand’s tourism authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider.

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