PATTAYA - It is Friday night in the heart of Pattaya, the famous and colorful Thai beachside resort town that became an irresistible lure for Russian tourists during the energy boom that followed the 2008 global financial crisis.
But on the city's notorious Walking Street, it is oddly quiet, and there is plenty of space to stroll -- a rarity during the November to February high season. At the usually raucous bars lining the street there are many empty seats. In Rasputin, a restaurant that serves Russian favorites like beef stroganoff and borscht, only a handful of tables have customers. A year ago the place was packed, the waiter says.
Some 10km away, down the long stretch of beach lined with the city's hotels and apartment blocks, business is equally slow at the Ravindra Beach Resort & Spa on Jomtien Beach. "Room bookings are down by as much as 80 per cent compared to last year," front office manager Nannicha Watjirametakul told the Nikkei Asian Review. "And it's mainly the Russian market."
Tourism to Asia from Russia has soared in recent years, especially in the perennially warm countries of Southeast Asia. China remains the most popular destination for Russian tourists, with 2.1 million visits in 2013. But the total was down from 2.6 million in 2011, as Russians eschewed the beaches of China's Hainan Island for Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, according to the Pacific Asian Travel Association.
Russian tourist numbers to Thailand -- now the No. 2 choice for Russian travelers in the Asia Pacific -- jumped from 1.1 million in 2011 to 1.7 million in 2013, when they constituted 2.5 per cent of the country's total international arrivals, according to figures supplied by the Pacific Asia Travel Association. Saluda Sarutilavan, Pattaya director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said that for Pattaya, the proportion was much more significant, at 22 per cent.
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