Thousands of Russian tourists are stranded in Thailand, unable to get home or pay their bills due to sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.
About 3,100 Russians are stuck in Phuket and more than 2,000 in Samui, according to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) official Kunjara Na Ayudhya. The spokesman told France 24 that additional Russians were in Krabi, Phang Nga, and Bangkok.
Thailand is a popular tourist destination for wealthy Russians. But getting home suddenly became a problem when airlines stopped flying to the country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
To further complicate matters for the tourists, many of their credit cards are no longer valid after both Visa and MasterCard suspended financial services in Russia as part of the long series of sanctions against the country.
TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told the Associated Press that officials are trying to find alternative methods of payment for the tourists. Hotels are also offering reduced rates on rooms for those who were expecting to leave by now.
Thailand hotels do not accept cryptocurrency, so that method is eliminated as well.
Some of the tourists have cash, and others have UnionPay credit cards issued by Chinese companies, a spokesperson said.
The biggest issue, however, is simply finding a way to get home. A few airlines are flying into Russia primarily from Middle East locations, so the stranded tourists are attempting to find flights from Thailand to those locations to connect home.
“There are some airlines that still fly to Russia, but travelers have to transit in another country. We are trying to coordinate and search the flights for them,” Yuthasak said.
President of Phuket’s tourism association, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, told Reuters there are also discussions about repatriation flights being arranged.
“We have to be good hosts and take care of everybody,” Yuthasak said.
Thailand’s government is also trying to help, offering visitors 30-day visa extensions to give them time to find a solution.
Local groups in Thailand have also stepped up to help, including the Orthodox Church.
“We will pay for water, electric, everything for them,” said Archimandrite Oleg, a representative of the Orthodox Church.
Russians account for the seventh highest number of tourists to Thailand annually. The Tourism and Sports Ministry said about 23,000 Russians arrived in January, according to their most recent figures.
For the stranded, they simply want to get home at this point.
“We are very nervous because the children are very small, we don’t have enough money to live here,” said Evgenia Gozorskaia, a psychologist who arrived from Moscow with her husband and children on February 27.
Their flights home later this month have been canceled.
“We want to go tomorrow to the airport, but I don’t know what the situation will be,” she said.
For the most up-to-date travel news, check out our recent coverage: