Streets bustling with enthusiastic visitors and the rhythm of commerce in the heart of Phuket town is a common sight to behold. Recently, however, this lively scene has caught the attention of international media, instigating a whirlwind of discussions that seem to be staining the pristine reputation of this touristic haven. From accusations of Russian tourists monopolizing the local job market to alleged claims of illegal business operations, the Thai province of Phuket is under the global spotlight.
The storm was spurred by an eye-opening report by Al Jazeera, which argues that Phuket is gradually being hijacked by a steady stream of Russian migrants. The report swept across social media platforms, causing a frenzy, highlighting issues such as the purported spike in land prices subsequent to increasing Russian investments in local real estate, and allegations of Russians replacing the Thais in jobs such as taxi services. Amidst these controversies, more serious accusations began to surface, pointing the finger at Russian criminals establishing their residence in Phuket.
Brushing aside these allegations as largely unverified is the Phuket police commander Pol Maj Gen Sermphan Sirikong, along with key stakeholders from the tourism industry. According to Sirikong, over the past five years, only a scarce three cases relate to Russian criminal activities, signifying that the overall crime rate associated with Russian tourists is negligible. Majority of these cases revolved around business struggles, with no linkages to any criminal factions or mob activity. Sermphan also emphasized that the majority of Russians in Phuket are tourists, not job seekers or unlawful entrepreneurs.
Spearheading the legal aspects to counter these illicit actions by foreigners, if any, is Pol Col Thanet Sukchai, superintendent of Phuket Immigration police, working with the island’s various agencies. In a recent briefing, it was revealed that of the 635 legal actions against foreigners in Phuket, only 78 were against Russians, and a mere six of these were due to work permit violations.
To bolster their efforts in tackling this perceived problem, the provincial governor has spearheaded a new initiative. Plans for a Traffy Fondue mobile app, designed to file online complaints related to these issues, are in the pipeline.
Backing up the claim that Phuket isn’t being invaded by Russians but rather frequently visited by them, Thanet Tantipiriyakit, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, highlighted the influx of Russian tourists rising by an astounding 80% from 2019 figures. Phuket, from January to August, saw the footfall of approximately 2.46 million international tourists, out of which 487,504 were from Russia. Finally, out of these Russian visitors, a mere 1.9% chose to extend their stay in the province via a long-term visa.
Furthermore, this rise in Russian tourists in Phuket is attributed to the ongoing economic struggle and political disturbance in Russia due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This creates a natural push for Russian tourists to seek solace in the serene and warm landscapes of Phuket.
Decoding these figures sheds light on the reality of the situation, dismissing the sensational allegations of Russian dominance in Phuket as largely unfounded. Amidst these turbulent moments, Phuket stands firm as a welcoming haven for people worldwide, undeterred by the waves of controversy sparked by global headlines.