Overview of best prospect sectors, major infrastructure projects, significant government procurements and business opportunities.
Thailand’s recent reforms in business regulations facilitated set-up processes and reduced the time to start a business from 29 days to 6 days. The country considerably improved its standing, gaining six positions from the previous year, moving to the 21st position in the World Bank rankings “Doing Business 2020.” The jump in the ranking was attributable to the government’s efforts in streamlining the business approval process by adopting digital systems for government services and improving rules and regulations to catch up with recent developments. The rights of borrowers and creditors were strengthened, and improvements in the system of land administration were implemented. The country took steps to clarify corporate governance, ownership, and control structures by enacting legislation requiring companies to appoint independent members of boards of directors and to establish audit committees.
To help Thailand’s economy develop over the next 20 years, the Thai government adopted an economic model called Thailand 4.0, which is focused on transforming Thailand into a value-based economy built upon science, technology, innovation, and creativity. The government aims to improve its education system and to develop the technological skills of highly educated workers to serve target industry sectors. The target sectors are the “First S-curve” sectors, including next-generation automotive, smart electronics, medical and wellness tourism, agriculture, and biotechnology, as well as the “New S-curve” sectors including robotics, aviation, and logistics, biofuels and biochemicals, digital industries, and medical hubs. These development strategies are in line with the government’s policy to upgrade Thailand from a middle income to a highly developed country by 2036. With the rapidly increasing demand for English language education in Thailand, the country has experienced a growth in the number of international schools. There is also a significant increase in the number of Thai children who study abroad at an early age.
To further boost the country’s competitiveness, the Thai government generated a long-term infrastructure plan to accelerate economic growth. This plan prioritizes the improvement of existing infrastructure as well as the construction of numerous new projects in many areas, including the expansion of airports, seaports, roads, rail systems, and ICT infrastructure. For example, upgrades of Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi International Airports are currently underway, while U-Tapao International Airport will also increase its capacity with the addition of a second runway and the redesign of airport space. Maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) at U-Tapao are among the top five projects where the Thai government expects to select developers. To provide additional maritime transport infrastructure and facilities, a $3 billion project will expand port capacity in the Eastern Seaboard area, including a cruise ship port in Sattahip and upgrades of the major shipping ports of Laem Chabang and Map Ta Phut. Once completed, Laem Chabang should be able to handle 18 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) a year, while Map Ta Phut should be able to handle 19 million additional tons of cargo of petrochemicals and natural gas.
In the energy sector, Thailand aims to be the power trade hub of Southeast Asia by improving high-voltage transmission lines across the country to facilitate regional power trading and sales of surplus electricity. The improvement of high-voltage transmission lines is part of digitization, with a target to support grid connection in Southeast Asia in the near future. The Ministry of Energy is pushing forward a plan to promote Thailand as a free trade hub for liquid natural gas (LNG). To support Thailand as a regional LNG trading hub, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand signed an agreement worth $1.33 billion with Gulf MPT LNG Terminal Company to build the country’s third LNG import terminal. Commercial operations for the project are slated to begin by 2025. From the Department of Mineral Fuels, Thailand also plans two floating storage regasification units. The first project, which will have a capacity of 5 MTPA (million metric tons per annum), will come online in 2024, and the second, which will have a capacity of 2 MTPA, will come online in 2028.
With a strong healthcare infrastructure, highly skilled medical professionals, and international standard medical services, Thailand is a global hub for medical tourism. In 2019, approximately 3.5 million medical tourists visited Thailand. Several hospitals are expanding, renovating, and upgrading their facilities. Thailand plans to build a new medical hub in the Eastern Economic Corridor area called “EECmd,” which will include the Medical Research Institute, Chulabhorn International College of Medicine, and Thammasat University Hospital, Pattaya Campus. One cornerstone of the hub will be the Lakeside Premier Complex dedicated to the study and treatment of elderly patients.
The franchise industry remains very popular among Thai investors. Experts identified 562 franchise concepts in 2019, representing almost 3% annual growth. Food and beverage (including coffee shops) have the largest market share of 23.49%, while restaurants, quick service, and casual dining are second with 23.13%. Education service franchises (including education and child development) come in third with 18.15% of the share. International franchise systems control 60% of the total market value.