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Tanking Ruble Hits Russian Tourists, Thai Hotels

Tourists walk on a beach in Pattaya, June 6, 2014.
Tourists walk on a beach in Pattaya, June 6, 2014.

Russia’s plunging currency is creating serious concerns for Thailand’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry, already suffering for the past year because of political upheaval that culminated in the May 22 bloodless military coup.

With the ruble crashing to record lows against the U.S. dollar and other currencies, Russians are cutting back on spending, including overseas travel.

That cutback is being felt in places like the beach resort city of Pattaya, on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand. According to the Thai Hotel Association, the loss of the Russians, who are known as big spenders, has resulted in a 70 percent drop in hotel reservations from Russia during the upcoming high season, which runs from December 28 through January 15.

Suladda Sarutilavan, director of the Pattaya office of the Tourism Association of Thailand, told VOA News the Russians are second to none for the beach resort known for its licentious nightlife.

“Actually it’s a major or main market for Pattaya. Russian tourists are number one. Last year, we got around 1.7 million Russian tourists,” said Suladda.

The number of Russian visitors to all of Thailand totaled 1.4 million through November of this year. But December is shaping up to be a disaster, and the national hotel operators' association expects a drop of 50 percent for the total number of Russian tourists for 2014, compared to last year.

Suladda said popular destinations such as Pattaya, Phuket and Samui - all heavily reliant on visitors converting Russian rubles into Thai baht - are expecting things to stay bad for the next six months, at least.

“We don’t know when it’s going to end. For the tour operators and hoteliers who are dealing with the Russian market they are quite worried about it. But they are now trying to shift to other markets to compensate with the decreasing number of Russian incoming tourists to Pattaya,” said Suladda.

The Thai resort cities and islands dependent on the Russians are putting into place urgent marketing initiatives to make up for the shortfall by luring short-haul visitors from China and ASEAN nations.

In recent years, the Russian market has been the third-largest source of tourists for Thailand.

As for those still yearning for an affordable warm escape from the long, cold Russian winter, they are said to be shifting vacation plans to Vietnam and Myanmar.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Thursday that the "unfavorable situation" depreciating the ruble could improve as soon as the middle of 2015 but might last as long as two years.