Tourism operators have shared different views on the cabinet's extension of the length of stay for Russian tourists, as some are concerned about a possible influx of illegal workers, while those in the South believe the policy will generate an uptick in spending.
The cabinet on Mondayextended the period of stay for Russian nationals under the visa exemption scheme to 90 days, from 30 days, to drive the market during the high season.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he plans to hold discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin about other areas of cooperation in the future.
Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, former president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council and group executive director of Sunshine Hotels and Resorts, said the extension might attract more Russians who intend to work illegally in Thailand, which would affect local people who are looking for jobs, such as tour guides and drivers.
Foreign companies would also exploit this policy more easily by using nominees or by hiring their own imported members of staff, said Mr Thanet.
He said Russian tourists in Pattaya typically stay for 12-24 days as their chartered flights would arrive from Russian cities at U-tapao airport every 12 days, which means tourists have a maximum stay of less than a month due to limitations in terms of flight schedules.
However, tourism operators in Koh Samui and Phuket believe they can reap benefits from Russians staying in the country for longer.
“As a lot of long-stay tourists and remote workers from Russia have resided in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, the extension will help attract this segment and benefit the overall local economy,” said Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui.
He said there might be some Russians who are involved with crime, such as by operating tour businesses or opening companies with Thai nominees, but those businesses are not large ones, while most tourists still require products and services from local people.
“Samui has strong local operator communities. We can assure you that tourism revenue would be generated for local pockets,” he said.
Phuket will also be able to receive a higher level of spending from tourists, said Thaneth Tantipiriyakij, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.
“The post-Covid trend has shown that tourists are keen to stay for longer at destinations,” said Mr Thaneth.
Even though the scheme is expected to generate more advantages than disadvantages, the authorities would still have to implement stringent measures to tackle illegal businesses that might use this loophole.
As of Oct 15, Russian tourists tallied over 1.03 million, while the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is hoping for 1.47 million this year.
Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, TAT deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, said there was increasing travel demand from the Russian market during the cool season, as seen from the requirement for flight slots.
Mr Siripakorn said TAT will keep an eye on so-called “Hub and Hook” packages, encouraging Russians to travel to other secondary destinations from the three hubs – U-tapao, Bangkok and Phuket – to capture the market that would like to stay in Thailand for longer.