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Cashless and flightless, Russian tourists stuck in Thailand

BANGKOK (AP) – Thousands of Russian tourists are stranded in Thailand’s beach resorts because of the war in Ukraine, many unable to pay their bills or return home because of sanctions and cancelled flights.

The crisis in Europe also put a crimp in recovery plans for the Southeast Asian nation’s tourism industry, which has hosted more visitors from Russia than any of its neighbours before the pandemic hit.

There are about 6,500 Russian tourists stuck in Phuket, Surat Thani, Krabi and Pattaya, four provinces that are popular seaside resort destinations, in addition to 1,000 Ukrainians, Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Yuthasak Supasorn told The Associated Press on Friday.

Some 17,599 Russians accounted for the largest bloc of arrivals in February, representing 8.6 per cent of a total of 203,970, according to the Public Health Ministry. After the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, their numbers drastically declined.

Yuthasak said the Russians face two main problems: cancellations of their flights home by airlines that have stopped flying to Russia, and suspension of financial services, particularly by credit card companies that have joined sanctions against Moscow.

There are also some who prefer to delay their return.

While almost all direct flights from Russia have been suspended, connections are still available through major carriers based in the Middle East. Yuthasak said efforts are also being made to find alternative methods of payments for Russian tourists.

Volunteer translator for Russians stranded in Krabi Siwaporn Boonruang a said some cannot pay their bills because they can no longer use Visa or Mastercard credit cards.

Many have cash and those with UnionPay credit cards can still use them, but payment by cryptocurrency is not allowed, she said.

The golden mount temple in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: AP