From Pattaya with love!

Pattaya, Thailand

Old movie-favourite James Bond would have certainly been deeply disturbed by the announcement. A revolution is indeed quietly taking place in Thailand among the top European inbound markets: Russia became in 2011 for the first time in Thai tourism history the Kingdom’s largest single European traveller’s market. It turned even into Thailand’s fourth largest incoming markets last year, just behind Malaysia, China PRC, Japan and on pair with South Korea. The Kingdom received last year 1.01 million Russian travellers, up by 57.4% taking over both the UK (0.84 million travellers, up by 4.1% over 2010) and the German markets (0.60 million, -0.5% over 2010). From 2007 to 2011, the market share of Russian travellers on total arrivals to Thailand jumped from 1.9% to 5.3% last year while the growth in total arrivals over the same period reached an amazing 265%!

1. Total arrivals to Thailand for selected markets from 2007 to 2011 (in million)

Source: Thailand Ministry of Sports and Tourism

2. Market share of foreign guests in commercial accommodation by nationalities in Pattaya

Source: Thailand Ministry of Sports and Tourism

This evolution does not go without consequences. The rapid development of the Russian holiday market goes on pair with the deep transformation of the vacation landscape in Thailand.

Started a few years ago with the first charter flights from Siberia or secondary cities reaching the uncomfortable U-Tapao airport, the city of Pattaya gradually has been lured by quick money from the former Soviet Union up to the point to turn of the city districts into Russian enclaves. Infamous South Pattaya with its hotels, its walking street, its night markets and its myriad of entertainment venues and bars is increasingly dominated by Russian signs. Russian workers are even to be seen everywhere –from sellers to even prostitutes. Reports in local media circulated recently about fights among Russian bar owners to control some territory…

The City of Pattaya seems to slowly realize the effect of the Russian market over its city. It recently recruited Russian native to become voluntaries within the tourist police force. The presence of Russian workers is even more surprising as Thailand imposes relatively severe controls on foreign workers seeking a job in the Kingdom. It looks as if Thais are slowly losing control over the destiny of the well-known resort. “In contrary to the belief, I do not however think that the Russian mafia is heavily involved into the Pattaya market. Russian businessmen just take advantage of the credulity –and, in some ways, the cupidity- of the Thais,” says a Russian travel veteran who works for a Pattaya hotel during the ITB.

According to data available for 2010, guest arrivals from Russia in any type of commercial accommodation in Pattaya (hotels, resorts or residences) reached 927,000 (including Russian expatriates or returning visitors), reached almost a third of all foreign tourists in 2011 (2.99 million according to the Ministry of Tourism). They are of course large number of nationalities such as Chinese, Korean, Germans, Britons or Middle-eastern still visiting Pattaya. But the high visibility of Russian businesses in the city centre is likely to have increasingly a deterrent effect on other travellers by turning them to other destinations in Thailand.

Being generally high-spenders, Russians are also highly sought after from hoteliers. “I don’t like the way many Russian tourists behave as they disturb a lot other holiday makers but you cannot refuse them as they generally generate big money for your hotel,” explained during ITB a Thailand-based hotelier under condition of anonymity. After Pattaya, more Russians are now moving into Phuket, especially in the Patong area. How long will this evolution last? “Russians never stay to long. Once they have bought the real estate in an area, they start to resell and move somewhere else. And with more destinations opening their doors to Russian tourists, I can predict that Russian days in Pattaya will not last for ever,” concludes the Russian hotel industry player.

About candlewoodste

Director of Sales for the Candlewood Suites located in Secaucus, NJ.
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