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Tuesday 13 May 2014

Look out: The Russians are coming

It was an evening just like any other at the ritzy Asian beachfront resort. Diners were enjoying quiet meals and a glass or two of wine when he walked in. 

He was middle-aged, wearing a brilliant white tracksuit and adorned with gold chains. And he was talking loudly. Very loudly. Into two mobile phones at once. 

And he kept bellowing so that a couple of tables asked to be moved away from him - and the waiters apologised profusely, saying: "Sorry. He did the same thing last night."

Yet no one among the other diners was brave enough to chastise the man, and the staff were too scared to confront him for his uncouth behaviour.

Our man is part of a new breed of tourist; the bane of the existence of hotel managers and staff across Europe and increasingly in Asia. Coming soon to a resort near you the RBT: Russian Bogan Tourist. 

Hotel owners are extremely keen to have cashed up nouveau riche Russians as guests. They spend up big on the best rooms and suites; Champagne and cigars.

But their lack of social awareness, and their often downright rudeness to staff they often treat with contempt, also makes them problematic for hotel managers and cruise directors. 

Off the record, many in the hospitality industry in Asia will tell you that they restrict Russian bookings to a small percentage of their overall guests - too many and other paying customers lose their appetite.

The Daily Telegraph reported a couple of years ago on how  the upmarket Austrian ski resort of Kitzb├╝hel imposed a 10 per cent “quota” on Russians who they were felt "lowered the tone and put off other guests". 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, several hotel managers told me how Russians are now the most problematic of guests, having taken over from British lager louts. 

Many of them have not a word of any language other than Russian - are aggressive, often dress inappropriately, and are happy to flout rules when it comes to smoking in public areas; using swimming pools after closing time, making lots of noise and sometimes being downright rude to staff. 

Many may not have travelled outside Russia before, or are simply used to making up their own rules and doing as they please. 

I've seen Russian groups blocking corridors on cruise ships and refusing to put out cigarettes, and been told of Russians putting towels down on swimming pool sun-loungers, reserving them for friends and family who do not turn up for hours (something German tourists used to be notorious for).

I was also told about Russians in an Asian forest resort, who left out fruit to attract local monkeys, and then amused themselves by throwing stones at the animals when they got close - leading to angry confrontations with other tourists.

So far the Russian tourism invasion has been largely limited to Phuket and other parts of Thailand, Bali, Langkawi and Vietnam - although cruise lines are also monitoring their influence on the happiness of other guests.

In the United States and Australia, I suspect, the locals will be far more forceful in expressing their dissatisfaction with anti-social behaviour - but restaurants and hotels want big spenders. It is a situation worth watching. 

Have your experiences matched mine, or do you think I am being unfair? 


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