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Pattaya Daily News

12 February 2013 :: 11:02:55 am 71646

Russians Wearing Out Welcome In Phuket

More than 150 Thai tourism workers in Phuket staged a protest in front of Russian businesses that they claim are taking jobs away from them. The "Russian domination" of Phuket is largely due to lax law enforcement by local authorities, the protestors claimed.
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The January 28 protest was led by taxicab drivers from the Bang Tao, Cherng Talay and Thalang areas. Protestors hoisted banners with hostile messages like, “Russian Business Get Out.” One enraged taxicab driver tore down a business sign in front of a Russian storefront as the angry crowd cheered him on. However, the Russians knew about the protest beforehand, so they had closed their shops to avoid confrontations.

The protest is a rare event in this world-class tourist city. But Thai workers are saying their livelihoods are being threatened. Russian businesses catering to Russian tourists are now operating travel businesses, car rental agencies, laundries, restaurants, and guided tours that employ both illegal and legal Russian guides.

In Bang Tao alone, more than 50 Russians have set up sales desks to sell tours at cut-rate prices. They are also telling Russians tourists not to use the services of local taxis. The Thai protesters have submitted a letter of complaint to the governor, asking for the relevant departments to solve the problems and to drive the Russian businesses out of the area.

The lead protesters said that they welcome foreigners from all nations, including Russians, but they did not want to be exploited by foreigners who come to take the jobs from Thai people.

This problem has been going on for some time, they pointed out. Earlier, the tuk tuk entrepreneurs in Karon Beach also had complained to the local government about illegal Russian companies. The Russians were convincing tourists not to use the Thai tuk tuk services.

Dating back to mid-2008, a group of professional Thai tour guides fluent in Russians had gathered to protest the illegal Russian businesses. They demanded that the Minister of Tourism and Sports ministry solve the problem of Russians taking away their jobs.

They said it had become a chronic problem, and that Russians were starting guided tour companies in Thailand, using the names of complicit Thai citizens as fake owners or sponsors of the businesses.

But these companies did not hire the Thai guides who could speak Russian to be their employees. They instead used Russians as tour guides and hired the Thais for menial jobs like helpers. As a result, the Thais fluent in Russians either lost their jobs or had problems getting hired.

The Phuket protestors said their problem with Russian businesses is just the tip of the iceberg regarding all the illegal activities flourishing in Phuket, which still has many problems waiting for serious remedy from the relevant agencies and organizations, both local and national.

Since Phuket island has become an international destination of people from all over the world, whether as a tourist resort, trading/service center, or for investments, or as a real estate center (hotels, villas and condominiums owned by wealthy foreigners), the affluent businessmen from within Thailand as well as from other countries are bringing their money to invest consistently and fully on the island.

The first wave of investments were by groups of foreigners who came to invest in Phuket bungalows, mainly from England, Australia and Hong Kong. In the past few years, however, the Russians began to arrive in large numbers.

Both the numbers of tourists and investors has grown exponentially in Phuket, to 234,628 in 2011, which has vaulted Phuket into the top rank. Some foreign investors came to build companies with Thai partners, or they bought 3 to 5-star hotels in Patong beach, Kata beach, Karon beach and Mai Khao beach to especially service the Russian tourists.

Lately there have been big purchases of land to construct more accommodations to service Russians, similar to business models of Farangs selling to Farangs, while cutting Thais out of the equation.

Because most Russian cannot speak the Thai language, several Russians who are familiar with Thais and Thai authorities have changed their focus to be real estate developers. They have invested companies to sell property to the Russians who have more demand in the European market because of current depressed economic conditions in Europe. Many Russians who invest in Phuket property desire to have a second home in Thailand to escape their cold weather.

Despite the establishment of joint venture companies with Thais serving as sponsors or co-owners, many Russian tourists cannot speak English, so they prefer to use the services offered by Russian entrepreneurs, because they feel more comfortable with people who speak their language.

This is the motivation behind the Russians in Phuket establishing the full range of resort, hotels, restaurants, spa facilities, cable TV, boat rental and tour guide agents, as well as real estate agents to help them buy and sell properties to service the Russians all over Phuket.

Presently most of the Russian businesses and tourists are concentrated in the areas of Chalong, Rawai, Naiharn, Patong, Taka and Karon beach. There have been already many businesses related to tourism popping up like mushrooms.

The phenomenon of “Russian domination” is also occurring in Chonburi province and is now expanding to Pattaya city as well. The question is not how to block foreign investment, but how do we make the so-called “law enforcement” in Thailand take the issue more seriously?

It seems local authorities are turning a blind eye to the problem, which affects the interests of the nation, not just small groups of workers in Phuket.

Photo : Internet   Category : Society

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