I was in Thailand last week leading a client workshop on prioritising international markets.
For confidentiality reasons I won’t go into details of what we did and with who, but I would like to share some thoughts on how the country has changed, at least from my perspective as an outsider.
Whilst Japan was the first Asian country I lived in, the first one I ever visited was Thailand. That was over 25 years ago. Since then I have been to Thailand on numerous occasions. When I was in Nestle Malaysia we imported a lot of ice creams, cones specifically, from Bangkok. My sister lived in Thailand then and I visited often. Then there were few expressways, certainly no BTS (Bangkok mass transit system) and the horrific traffic an enduring memory.
More recently as a consultant I’ve worked with a range of businesses in Thailand from MNCs to local and quasi-local firms. Quasi-locals are headquartered elsewhere but Thailand is a significant manufacturing or marketing centre.
Tourism remains one of the country’s biggest exports and a critical pathway for Thai brands to interface and engage cross border. Last year there were 11 million tourist arrivals, numbers that are accelerating rapidly. At one time Westerners accounted for the biggest share of visitors. Now, tourists from other Asian markets whether it be India, Korea, Singapore or China are the majority.
According one fact shared at the workshop, Thai food is now the fourth biggest ‘ethnic’ dish globally!
One business contact from a quasi-local company who I met before the workshop told me his company exported several million Thai meal kits to Europe in the first 6 months of the year alone.
The retail scene in Thailand has accelerated in leaps and bounds. I didn’t have much time on this trip to do a lot of store work, but I did some. This Tops supermarket in Central is clearly a flagship outlet and a significant proportion of its shoppers wealthy Thais, Farang and expats. The in store merchandising quality was exceptional.
The ever growing BTS has also brought in more railway shops like this mini Lawson. Although 7-Eleven remains the biggest CVS chain (with store numbers far north of 10,000) other chains like Lawson are elbowing in too.
Since I live in Japan I spotted other big Japanese chains here too, like Autobacs. Despite the great train system, Thais still love their cars!
Online is also exploding. Signs for Shopee the No 1 EC portal were everywhere. Yamato delivery is also in the game.
What about the people?
The team at my client’s workshop were highly engaged, open minded and prepared to challenge. Getting people to speak out and up in Thailand can be a cultural hurdle, but not in this workshop! Almost everyone was bi or even tri-lingual which was great to see and just the profile for managing an international business across 4 continents.
I see lots of upside in Thailand internationally. It has a deep history, cultural heritage and many spicy signature food and beverage dishes. With clever and well targeted marketing it has many pathways before coming close to full potential.
This brings me back to the workshop. Which pathway is best? Our client knows!