Thailand’s economy is on the mend as the crucial tourism sector has revived much better than the expectations of the government with total number of tourists entering Thailand by the end of 2022 likely to reach as high as 12 million, a senior member of the Cabinet said.
“Our number of foreign tourists coming into the country has risen and we are receiving right now almost 10 million which is beyond our target, our target was 8 million,” Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, the Minister of Finance said.
“We were really pessimistic at that time but now 10 million, and we expect to have 11-12 million by the end of this year,” he added.
Tourism, which accounts for nearly 15% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP) had grinded to a halt over the past 2-years due to the implementation of restrictions after the outbreak of Covid-19 that spread across the world in 2020.
It was only in July this year that Thailand lifted most, if not all, restrictions on arriving tourists and locals, that has helped push the tourism back on the radar screens.
Thailand, which in 2019 had welcomed about 40 million tourists, had seen the numbers dwindle down to just over 400,000 during 2021, thus leaving the industries that relied heavily on the tourism revenue struggling to survive.
Earlier the government of 2014 coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, had hoped that Thailand’s tourism numbers would be around 10 million by the end of the year but as the skies open and high season (October – January) kicked in the number of tourists have risen sharply.
“So, this is the beginning of a new era, after the Covid-19,” Akrhom said during a speech to open the new headquarters of Singaporean bank UOB in Thailand.
He said that Thailand and the Asean countries were likely to buck the trend of global gloom and doom and that the hope was that ‘Asean could reverse’ the trend of global recession that is expected to impact the global economy in 2023.
“The world is facing a global recession, but the thing is that Asean is reversing the forecast, if you look at the Thai economy, we are having more opportunity, we are helping the Asean reverse the trend,” he said.
Akrhom came out to thank UOB for its firm commitment to Thailand saying that despite all the ups and downs the Singaporean bank has remained committed to expanding its operations in Thailand.
“UOB started its foothold in Thailand in the middle of the Asian Financial crisis when restoring the confidence in the financial and banking sector was crucial,” he said adding that today “I am very encouraged to see how UOB has become one of the few foreign banks that has continued to remain and has full banking operations in Thailand.”
Most foreign banks that had acquired assets in Thailand during the financial crisis have exited the markets over the past 25-years. The likes of Standard Chartered that had acquired Nakornthon Bank, the likes of ABN AMRO that had acquired Bank of Asia, the likes of Singapore based DBS that had acquired Thai Danu bank, have all divested or diluted their holdings over the years.
Arkhom said that in 1997 Thailand economy was in severe crisis after 3 decades of unprecedented expansion resulting in disruption in output and the financial sector and the fact that banks such as UOB came in to invest helped restore the country’s financial system.
“In fact, that I am impressed with the developments that UOB has taken over the years in Thailand, the fact that Thailand was the country chosen by UOB to implement its digital banking system makes it even more fascinating,” he said in reference to Thailand being the 1st market for UOB to try out its digital banking application – UOB TMRW, that was introduced in 2019 in Thailand.
“Such close relations are one of the examples of the relations we have between Thailand and Singapore,” he said.
Arkhom’s comments were echoed by Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s Minister of Trade & Industry who said that the commitment and trade between the 2 countries continues to thrive.
“The bilateral ties have increased despite the pandemic and Thailand continues to be an important destination for Singapore’s investments,” Mr. Gan said.
These commitments were further cemented by Wee Ee Cheong, the chief executive officer of UOB group worldwide, who said that Thailand continues to remain a market that UOB will expand going forward.
“This (the opening of the new headquarter in Bangkok) showcases our long journey here in Thailand as Thailand is a very important market for us, we have been helping our customers since 1999 and we have been seeing new mega trends such as digitalization and sustainability,” he said.
He added that his bank will continue to service the Thai clients as it has done over the years with more innovative products and services.
“In 2019 we decided we decided to bring in the 1st launch of our digital bank – UOB TMRW here in Thailand, today we continue to introduce innovative products,” he said.
Adding that through UOB’s foreign direct investment advisory services, the bank has helped more than 300 companies invest in Thailand, they have invested close to 50 billion Baht and created 12,000 jobs.
UOB, he said has also helped more than 200 Thai companies invest into the Asean region.
With more than 10,000 people working in Thailand and another 1,800 being added after UOB acquired the retail banking operations of Citibank (Thailand), he said that the bank’s future in Thailand is to continue to grow its business here.
“Beside organic growth, we have grown through acquisition and this year we have acquired Citibank’s consumer business in 4 Asean countries including Thailand, a move that would solidify our position as a leading bank in the region,” he said.