From May 2018 to April 2019, Russian arrivals to the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region rose 54.5 percent, far outstripping the 3.8 percent growth of international arrivals to the region, according to ForwardKeys data.
The huge spike in Russian travelers has been prompted by a doubling of direct flights from Russia to Asian tourist destinations, mainly in Vietnam and Thailand, with air seat capacity increasing by 38 percent overall.
The ForwardKeys survey shows Vietnam saw the highest increase in Russian market seat capacity at 153 percent, followed by Thailand and the Maldives, which saw a growth of 125 percent and 58 percent respectively. The Republic of Korea (RoK) and India also saw seat capacity rising by more than 30 percent.
Vietnam has emerged as a favorite destination for Russian holiday-goers in recent years and is expected to surpass its neighbor Thailand, a favored Russian haunt for a long time.
Market observers say the launch of direct air connections from multiple secondary and tertiary cities in Russia to Vietnam's popular beach towns have propped up the Russian tourism boom.
Russia's S7 Airlines last year launched a direct flight connecting Irkutsk City with Cam Ranh, an hour south of its much busier sister Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa, while Vladivostok Air had begun operating daily flights from major cities of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay even earlier.
Khanh Hoa, home to the famous beach town of Nha Trang, has been much loved by Russian tourists, accounting for one fifth of total foreign arrivals. Last year, Russian tourist arrivals to Khanh Hoa reached nearly 400,000, up 1.5 percent year-on-year, making it the second biggest feeder market for local tourism after China.
"Vietnam is certainly going through a tremendous growth in demand from the Russian market," global media company Skift quoted Stephan Roemer, CEO of Diethelm Travel Group, as saying.
Russia is the sixth largest source market for Vietnam’s tourism, with mainland China topping the list, followed by the RoK, Japan, Taiwan, and the US.
Vietnam received a record high of 606,000 Russians last year, accounting for 4 percent of total foreign tourist arrivals.
Apart from visa exemptions for tourists from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam offers 15-day visa exemptions for visitors from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Japan, the RoK, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Belarus.
Russian tourists spend an average of $1,600 per stay in Vietnam while the average for foreign visitors overall is $900, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.
The country welcomed 7.3 million arrivals during January-May, up 8.8 percent from a year ago, putting the it on track to meet its annual target of receiving 18 million foreigners this year, according to the General Statistics Office.
With the changes to the visa policies, the tourism industry hopes to get 17-20 million foreign visitors by 2020 and revenues of $35 billion a year, contributing 10 percent to the country’s GDP compared to 7.5 percent last year.
Last year a record 15.4 million visitors came to the country, a whopping 20 percent increase from 2017.
Many travel agencies have said that Vietnam should further relax its visa policies and simplify procedures to attract high spending tourists from Japan, North America, Northern Europe, China and the RoK.
They have called for the current 15-day visa exemption extended to 30 days.