'Long-term outlook not hurt by crisis'

Economy January 27, 2014 00:00

By Pichaya Changsorn
The Nation

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If you see Karl-Heinz Heckhausen, president of the German-Thai Chamber of Commerce, visiting Suvarnabhumi Airport more often these days, don't be surprised.

He is helping to persuade foreign investors to keep coming to the Kingdom.
While massive anti-government protests have continued for more than two months and there is some concern there could be an airport blockade, Heckhausen said he had been encouraging foreign investors to fly in and agreed to meet them at the airport.
“I’m on my way at the moment to the airport,” Heckhausen said during a telephone interview with “Business Talk”, broadcast on Krungthep Turakij TV last Thursday night. 
“I’m convincing investors to come to Suvarnabhumi Airport and I have my meeting [with them] there. Because I told them you must come now in a difficult time and I will be responsible for your safety.
“So we’re not going into Bangkok. We have a meeting at the airport, because I’d like to support Thailand … Our neighbouring countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam – are taking advantage of the situation in Thailand, which I don’t like,” he said. 
Heckhausen said the headquarters of many international companies were asking about the implications of the state of emergency that the government decreed last Wednesday, such as how safe Thailand is and whether it is safe to send their people to the country. The automobile industry, he said, had already suffered an impact as consumers are putting off plans to buy expensive cars.
A long-time resident in Thailand, Heckhausen said he was usually an optimist, but currently he was very concerned because there is apparently no space for dialogue between the demonstrators and the government.
“The question that you and I can’t answer is when the demonstrations will be over and the emergency degree revoked, and we will have a normal situation,” he said.
‘Amazing resilience’
Arnaud Bialecki, country manager of Sodexo Thailand, the local unit of a French management company for food services and facilities, said most foreigners who had done business in Thailand for a long time knew that common sense eventually prevails. They have also seen on numerous occasions how quickly Thais recover from natural or man-made disasters. 
“This amazing resilience is truly unique,” he said. 
While there are, of course, short-term concerns, the long-term outlook remains positive, he said. 
“It’s true that many of our hospitality clients see a decrease in activity, so for the time being we are controlling our costs accordingly.” 
Bialecki said Sodexo was still winning new contracts from clients, and so it could reassign some of its staff from the affected contracts to the new ones. 
“We have no plan to cut down our investments. We actually continue investing on new technology so that we can become more efficient and more reactive to any unforeseen situation,” he said. 
Ian Pascoe, managing partner of Grant Thornton Thailand, a professional-services firm, said that at this stage foreign investors remained positive on Thailand, although one public relations and advertising project might be cancelled. 
Pascoe, whose firm offers various services including management and tax consulting, corporate finance and executive recruitment, said foreign investors in general saw the Thai economy as being resilient. 
“Our clients are still optimistic that Thai GDP will eventually recover,” he said. But he acknowledged that for those investors who valued political stability, other countries in the region such as Vietnam, Indonesia or Myanmar might seem a safer bet.