Many Russian commercial banks are cut off from the SWIFT system and card payment giants Visa and Mastercard announced last Saturday (Mar 5) they were suspending their operations in Russia amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This meant thousands of Russian tourists in Thailand would no longer be able to use their Visa and Mastercard cards while abroad, often their preferred method of payment.
Bhummikitti Raktaengam, the President of the Phuket Tourist Association, said yesterday (Mar 11) there are currently around 3,000 Russian tourists stranded in Phuket and unable to secure flights to return to their homeland, largely due to the fact they are unable to access financial funds.
Mr Bhummikitti proposed three possible solutions to the Tourism Association of Thailand (TAT) and the Bank of Thailand (BoT) to overcome this issue, despite them seemingly ignoring the global sanctions imposed:
1) Allow Thai commercial banks to support Russia’s Mir payments system which provides electronic fund transfers.
2) Allow the usage of Chinese supporting payment systems such as UnionPay
3) Permit cryptocurrencies to be utitlsied as a way of payment
“Right now, there are probably about 3,000 Russian tourists stranded in Phuket,” Mr Bhummikitti said.
“The majority would have arrived here in late February or early March but are now experiencing problems with accessing funds. This three-pronged proposal to TAT and BoT would offer a solution to this problem,” he added.
He further explained that some Russian tourists are unable to return on their previously booked flights due to widespread suspension of flights in and out of Russia.
“The direct flight from and to Moscow to Phuket has been discontinued,” he said. “This is true for Russian tourists on both eastern and western sides of Moscow. If they want to return to Russia then they will need to book fresh flights to alternative locations who may have a possible connection, or else travel over land. This can be very costly and availability is limited.”
A call centre was established in Phuket on Wednesday (Mar 9) to help tourists from Ukraine and Russia unable to return home because of flight cancellations and economic sanctions imposed. The call centre will be open from 8:30am-7pm until Mar 22.
Mr Bhummikitti added that the numbers of Russian tourists arriving has dropped more than 75% recently due to Russia’s suspension of flights. He added that if the Russian invasion of Ukraine is prolonged then it is inevitably going to have an adverse affect on global tourism and travel expenses will increase significantly.
“We have already seen a significant rise in oil prices globally which will hinder the spending power of tourists everywhere,” he said, adding that Thailand may have to focus on new tourist markets in future such as Australia, India and the Middle East to ensure its tourism industry stays afloat.
Mr Bhummikitti said he thought economic sanctions imposed by Europe on Russia would eventually backfire. As a result, there would be even fewer tourists from Europe to Phuket.