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Even at the Sheraton Grande, Russian signs are evident

Phuket Russian Invasion: Crisis Meeting on Guides

Friday, August 22, 2008
Friday TRENDS

CHARTER flights from St Petersberg in October are likely to be the start of a flood of Russians to Phuket, according to the new President of the Phuket Tourist Association, Somboon Chirayus.

A key meeting about how Phuket will deal with the increasing number of Russians will take place next Friday.

One vice governor predicts that 600,000 Russians could arrive in a year, a huge increase on the steadily rising numbers for 2007-2008.

Pattaya has long been the centre of Russian tourism to Thailand but awareness of Phuket and the changing standards of living in Russia would bringing more Russians to Phuket, Khun Somboon said.

Khun Somboon recently took over from outgoing president Maitree Narukatpichai and is Deputy Managing Director of the Merlin Phuket.

Because Russians no longer need visas for Thailand, travel is increasingly easier for visitors from the emerging natural resources power, where the middle class continues to prosper.

While the figure of 600,000 seems huge by comparison with the number of tourists from other nations (the two with the most visitors, Australia and Britain, combined to total about 600,000 in 2007), a sufficient increase in flights would make it possible.

But the Russians at present tend to travel on package trips and their spending is controlled by the companies running the tours, in much the same way as the Korean market.

So the actual financial benefits to the Phuket economy from a huge increase in the number of Russians are likely to be not as great as the big prediction would suggest.

The social consequences, however, may be significant.

The number of signs already in cyrillic characters around Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi reflects the upsurge in Russian visitors through 2007 and 2008.

Vice Governor Worapot Rattasima told a media conference on August 15 that 60,000 Russians visited Phuket between October and April, and the projection was for ten times that number in the 12 months from the beginning of this high season onwards.

Russian numbers surged by 40 percent in 2007 to more than 120,000.

In preparation for a dramatic increase in arrivals from Russia, at least one local college, Arshewa Witayalai (Phuket Vocational College), is attempting to boost its Russian language classes.

Russian guides based in Pattaya are understood to be moving to Phuket in preparation for the influx here.

However, the unhappiness of the 60 local Thai guides who speak Russian is likely to continue unless something is done quickly.

The guides say they are often cut out of the process by Russian tour companies, or forced into the situation where they work as ''sitting guides.''

In a compromise that remains unsatisfactory to all parties, sitting guides are sometimes paid to ride on tourist busses and boats, but it is the imported guides who do all the talking.

Local guides say they have often learned Russian in Moscow or Vladivostok and understand the Andaman region and its culture much better than Russian tour guides, whose cultural insights are usually taken from brochures and books.

The Russian Ambassador to Thailand, Yevgeny V. Afanasiev, is scheduled to visit Phuket for a meeting on August 29 aimed at overcoming the guides problem.

As has been the case with the Koreans, more first-time Russian visitors are likely to return to Thailand as independent travellers, keen to know more and thus more likely to break free from the constraints of the package tour system.

Change is also anticipated in Khao Lak. The Turkish resort brand Rixos Premium, which is to reopen the 300-room Sofitel Magic Lagoon Resort & Spa in Khao Lak later this year, will be aiming to attract more of the brand's existing Russian customers.

More broadly, Khun Somboon believes the tourist market is sensitive to sudden trauma and he would like to keep the local industry running smoothly through his two-year term.

Seminar on Burmese Labor

A SEMINAR will take place today at the Merlin Hotel from 9.30am to noon on Burmese labor, with the Governor among the speakers. The seminar may help to clarify some of the issue regarding Phuket's chronic shortage of guest workers.

More Malls Bring Suburban Living

THE FORMAL OPENING of the new Tesco Lotus shopping mall in Vichit takes place at 5.30pm today.

The @ symbol is included in the name but we happen to think that it has been misused around the world to the point where it's a cliche, so we prefer to call it Tesco Lotus, Vichit.

We are also not sure where the ''park'' bit comes in, nor for that matter ''community.''

Commercial interests will always appropriate words that seem useful. At present, ''green'' is the island's most abused word.

Another Tesco Lotus ''park'' is due to open soon in Rawai.

Customers seem to appreciate the facilities but it will probably mean the end for the mom and pop shops nearby, and a change from exotic tropical island living to suburbia.

That's progress. And the bags are still plastic.

Eight Million Baht Volleyball Title

VOLLEYBALL will be bigger on Phuket this year with the Phuket Thailand Open 2008 from November 4-9 at Karon beach attracting 37 teams from 19 countries.

About eight million baht will be offered in prizemoney.

Vice Governor Worapot Rattasima said beach volleyball was an international sport and perfect for Phuket.

Television would carry images from the tournament to 360 million homes around the world.

The sport is becoming more significant, especially in Asia, Khun Worapot said.

Look for
TRENDS
every day, Monday to Friday, at Phuketwan. It's essential reading. To tell us your news, email bigislandmedia@gmail.com or telephone 081 6513489.

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Look for
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Sunday October 17, 2021
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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