C9 Hotelworks, a Phuket-based hospitality consulting firm serving the Asia-Pacific region, has spotted a trend of Russian tourists switching to new destinations after previously spending most of their time in Pattaya and Phuket.
Samui has also reported strong interest from Russians during the high season that started in October. Many used charter flights to fly to Surat Thani before travelling to the island by bus and boat.
Krabi has also benefited from Russian charter flights.
"We see Khao Lak, Samui and Krabi as the emerging tourist locations for Russians," said Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks.
"We don't have the actual figure for Russian tourists in Krabi, but after talking to hotels and tourism operators over there, we are confident that there will be a big number of Russians visiting the southern province from October."
He said there will be more direct charter flights to Krabi after its airport is upgraded to meet international standards. Moreover, Phuket airport has reached its capacity.
Samui's top five source markets are Germany, Thailand, Britain, Australia and Russia, while Phuket's top five markets are China, Russia, Australia, South Korea and Malaysia.
In 2012, the number of Russian tourist arrivals to Thailand increased by 24.97 per cent to 1.317 million. In the first two months of this year, 393,700 Russians arrived – an increase of 22.25 per cent from the same period last year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) projects Russian tourist arrivals will pass 2 million this year.
C9 Hotelworks said the average daily spending of Russian travellers is US$135 (3,920 baht) per day, the highest among European visitors. Average spending per trip by Russian visitors is $1,986. The typical Russian has 28 paid vacation days at work and 12 public holidays a year.
During the winter in extremely cold locations, businesses are shut down for long periods, increasing demand for sunshine holidays.
Key source markets in Eastern Europe are Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
More than 650,000 tourists from Eastern Europe visited Phuket last year, representing 37 per cent growth from the previous year.
The number of Eastern European visitors to Thailand was 1.6 million last year.
This reflected a five-year compound annual growth rate of 30 per cent, starting from 2007. Two factors for skyrocketing growth were the visa exemption for Russians since 2007 and Eastern Europe's sustainable economic expansion.
Mr Barnett said there are no doubts Phuket's tourism economy is now highly leveraged by the mounting influence of Eastern European visitors at a time when its traditional markets continue to retract.
This has triggered stress fractures in local infrastructure and created an ongoing controversy over the blending of cultures of the new East and the old West, he said.
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