By Imtiaz Muqbil,
Visitors from Russia to Thailand have been growing steadily over the past few years. In 2006, arrivals from Russia totaled 187,658. Today, Russia is the largest source market from Europe with arrivals of 1.31 million in 2012. It is also one of six countries that generate more than one million visitor arrivals a year for Thailand.
Russia is one of the so-called RICHI group of source-markets (Russia, India, China, and Indonesia). In addition to being the world’s most populous, all these countries have major cities that are within a four to five hour flying-time radius of Thailand. Their citizens also get visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Thailand. Russians get 30 days visa-free access.
Thailand is a popular winter-getaway destination for Russian visitors, especially families. The beach resort of Pattaya has become hugely popular, thanks to the influx of Russian charters and a world-class highway going straight to the Eastern Seaboard resort from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, the country’s main aviation gateway. In recent years, the southern beach resort of Phuket has also gained ground. Feedback indicates that in addition to the beaches, Russian travelers also enjoy Thai food and sightseeing opportunities.
Russian visitors nearly doubled in 2010 over 2009, and have been growing by leaps and bounds since. In just the first quarter of 2013, Thailand attracted 584,516 Russians; up 26% over the same period of 2012. For 2013, TAT has set a target of 1,431,240 Russian visitors, up 9.14% over 2012.
2. Tourism Revenue in 2012
Russian visitors stayed an average of 14.46 days and spent an average of 4,474.16 baht person per day (or US$143.96) in 2012. This contributed a total of Bt84.8 billion (US$2.7 billion) tourism foreign exchange revenue to the Thai economy, a phenomenal increase over the US$487.6 million earned in 2008.
- Russia is one of just a few source-market countries that generate more female visitors to Thailand than males. 53% of Russian arrivals are females, up 24.54% to 684,050 while male visitor arrivals were up by 24.69% to 627,308. This clearly shows the appeal of Thailand as a family destination.
- 49% of Russian arrivals were repeat travelers, up 42.64% to 638,571, while first-time visitors were up by 11.26% to 672,787. This indicates that visiting Thailand just once is clearly not enough.
- 54% were independent travelers, up 21.80%, while visitors traveling as part of a group tour were up by 28% to 610,596.
- By age groups, visitors from Russia were mainly between 25-34 and 35-44, up 18.89% and 24.31% respectively. Other fast-growing segments were young people aged under 25 (up by 35.57%) while senior citizens aged over 55 were up by 28.96%.
- By purpose of visit, 96.73% were on pure holiday, up 172.77% to 1,268,422.
4. Aviation Linkages
On the aviation front, in May 2013, there were 14 direct scheduled flights between Thailand – Russia, operated by two airlines including Thai Airways International (TG) and Aeroflot Russian Airline.
In addition to these direct flights, there are also numerous connecting flights between major cities in Russia (Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok, Bratsk) and Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket) such as Siberia Airline, Transaero Air, Vladivostok Air and Pegas Touristik.
The number of direct flights and charter flights to Thailand are also growing, for example Pegas Touristik operated between Yakutsk – Bangkok, 7 flights/ week and sector Barnaul – Bangkok, 12 flights/week, Novokuznetsk – Bangkok, 12 flights/week (during December 2012 – May 2013) and sector Bratsk – Bangkok (during 19 October 2012 – May 2013).
Opportunities for Thailand
- According to the Federal Agency for Tourism of Russian Federation, Thailand is one of the Top 5 overseas destinations for Russian tourists, along with Turkey, Egypt, Spain, and Greece.
- New cities are emerging as potential future source-markets such as Krasnoyarsk in Siberia and several cities in the Urals. New tour operators and travel agents are also emerging in these cities to sell Thai tourism products.
- There is considerable potential for growth in Russian budget travelers, medical tourists and eco-tourists.
- It is projected that travel patterns will shift away from being just winter-getaways more towards the summer months, thus balancing out the seasonality peaks and troughs.
- Russian tour operators are broadening their product base and offering more “combined-destination packages” which include neighbouring countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and ASEAN.
- The increasing usage of technology will also drive market growth.
The Russian market has enormous future potential. But like all “new” markets, it is also creating some problems that are being widely reported in the Thai and Russian media. While these problems are unlikely to disrupt the positive flow of “good” visitors, they will need to be managed carefully.