Tourism operators in Pattaya say they are concerned about the Thai government’s visa extension program for Russian tourists as they fear it could bring in an influx of illegal workers who might steal Thai people’s jobs. In contrast, operators in Phuket believe the program will contribute additional revenue to the country.
The Thai Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, on Monday approved for Russian tourists to stay up to 90 days, increased from 30 days, in Thailand on a visa-free program.
The new program, aiming to invigorate the number of Russian tourists during the high season, will start on November 1st, 2023, and end on April 30th, 2024.
In response to this development, tourism operators in Pattaya shared their concerns stating the program might lead to an uptick in illegal workers.
Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, former president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council and group executive director of Sunshine Hotels and Resorts, expressed concern that the waiver could lead to an increase in illegal workers from Russia, which could potentially impact Thai tour guides.
He explained that since most Thai guides cannot speak Russian, there is a chance that some Russian individuals might exploit the visa-free program to come to Thailand in order to work illegally as guides or drivers in the tourism industry.
It would also be easier for international companies to hire their own imported members of staff from Russia or use nominees, Mr. Thanet said.
On the bright side, however, tourism operators in Koh Samui and Phuket believe that Thailand will benefit more from the extended stay of Russian tourists.
Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, notes that the move will attract long-stay tourists and remote workers from Russia, providing a boost to the local economy.
While there may be isolated cases of Russians involved in illicit activities like operating tours or setting up companies with Thai nominees, such instances are relatively small compared to the broader demand for local products and services, he said.
Similarly, Phuket expects an increase in spending from tourists, as post-Covid trends show a preference for longer stays. However, authorities need to remain vigilant against illegal businesses taking advantage of this privilege.
As of October 15th, 2023, 1.03 million Russian tourists travelled to Thailand, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) aims for 1.47 million by year-end. TAT is also considering “Hub and Hook” packages to encourage Russian tourists to explore secondary destinations from key hubs, in order to further extend their stay in Thailand.