The Erawan Shrine bombing last year placed Bangkok’s tourism industry under a dark cloud. Some small businesses shuttered, but the attack failed to deter big-time investors with more money to spend. They have since cashed in on continued growth. Bangkok h
This is very good news for an economy currently grappling with dismal export figures and subdued consumer confidence. More tourists means more revenue, which is what the Thai economy direly needs given that this year’s exports are likely to contract for the fourth year in a row.
Consumer confidence is also shaky, with overtime payments cut for manufacturing workers, and agricultural commodity prices remaining low in line with oil prices. Meanwhile average household debt has hit a nine-year high of Bt298,005, a 20 per cent increase from last year, according to a survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
These discouraging developments help explain why people are spending less on durable goods – from vehicles to TV sets. Banks have become more cautious in approving new loans, as their non-performing loans creep up. The Bank of Thailand also warns there is a high possibility the economy will miss its 3.2 per cent growth target this year.
The overall picture is gruesome. But not everyone is deterred by the doom and gloom. Many are pursuing their dreams for a better life.
Between January and August, 42,900 new companies were registered in Thailand, a 3 per cent increase from the same period last year, according to the Commerce Ministry’s Business Registration Department. Meanwhile, 9,986 companies were dissolved, an increase of only 0.02 per cent year on year.
It was disheartening to learn that Sakulthai, one of the country’s oldest weekly magazines, will publish its last edition next month after 62 years in business. Its subscribers are grumbling about losing cherished access to the high-quality features and novels by instalment published by the magazine. But the editors have bowed to the inevitable tide of digital media in Thailand. The trend is now towards e-magazines, whose publishers don’t have to worry about paper prices and can better control operating costs. The demand is being driven by younger consumers, though those over 45 are often less happy about the digital revolution. Many still prefer to read a printed page, deeming it easier on the eye, but they too will eventually have to adapt.
Like characters in Pokemon Go, people in the real world evolve and “power up”, gaining more control over what is to come.
At the vanguard of the change to a digital economy are startups, which are applying new technologies in every sector to make life easier. A recent interview with a doctor working at Bangkok Hospital’s Longevity Centre offered both inspiration and insight here. He has created a mobile app called Health at Home, which provides old folks with easy access to caregivers.
Some startups are finding it hard to attract investment, but their chances are much better than most SMEs. In the United States, the number of “unicorns” – private companies valued at more than $1 billion – has risen from 28 in 2013 to 96 today. Sooner or later, this will become a trend in Thailand too.
Thais are not alone in facing challenges. This year alone, the global business sector has had to endure several jolts. Among the major earthquakes was the Brexit vote in July, which sent shock waves rippling around the world.
In November, the US will vote for a new president. A win for Hillary Clinton wouldn’t bring big changes, since she would maintain most of the Democrat policies put in place by Barack Obama. But the world is fretting about a Donald Trump presidency, as the Republican candidate has vowed to impose several unorthodox policies. Clinton and Trump were tied at 41 per cent ahead of today’s first presidential debate, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted from September 19-22.
Another big development arrives next month, when the Chinese yuan will officially become the fifth reserve currency, joining the dollar, euro, Japanese yen and British pound. It remains to be seen how this will impact global trade financial markets, but once again change will come.
It seems that anxiety over change is an inevitable part of being human. But while some of us are satisfied to live beneath its burden, others are inspired to conquer their own fears.
“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely,” Lord Buddha said.
On a personal note, after more than 15 years writing this column, this is my last Streetwise. Heartfelt thanks go to all the readers for their comments and support over the years.