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17 Aug, 2015

Now Everyone Can Buy: Thailand’s Best Brands-free SME “Mega-mall” in Pictures

Babgkok – The Thai tourism industry is striving to position Thailand as a value-for-money Quality Destination and boost shopping as a means of raising national incomes, promoting a more fair and balanced distribution of economic progress and creating jobs. However, one major opportunity to meet that objective does not get its fair share of promotion — the OTOP Fair, organised twice a year at the Impact Muang Thong Thani, Thailand’s largest convention and exhibition complex, about 30 kilometres from Bangkok.

The most recent show between Aug 08-16 included more than 2,000 booths exhibiting a tantalizing array of products, from fashion, food and footwear to herbal products and household items — all made by small and medium sized entrepreneurs in each of Thailand’s 76 provinces. They ranged geographically from northern Thai hilltribes to the Thai-Muslim villages of South Thailand.

Mercifully, there were no branded goods, and no credit cards are accepted. The result is a shopping experience par excellence for those who are bored sick of seeing the same outrageously-priced trappings of clonalisation in duty-free airport plazas and urban megamalls. (Invented by me, the word “clonalisation” is a combination of “clone” and “globalisation”. It refers to everything looking alike, largely due to the ubiquitous brand-building expansion by multinational corporations.)

Bangkok’s middle-class consumers, including expatriate communities, are the primary purchasers of OTOP products. Not many foreign visitors turn up for the fair, largely because not much prior publicity is directed at them. Whether that shortcoming needs to be fixed, by whom and how, is for the Thai tourism industry to sort out, especially because the OTOP fair directly meets all of tourism’s strategic promotion and development targets.

OTOP stands for One Tambon (district), One Product. The project falls under the purview of the Community Development Department, Ministry of Interior, and the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, Office of the Prime Minister. The scheme to tap into the vast indigenous skills of Thailand’s SME entrepreneurs is inspired by a Japanese business model and was originally launched by the Thaksin Shinwatra administration more than a decade ago.

The Royal Thai government provides free space to the SME entrepreneurs whose presence is coordinated by local OTOP authorities at the provincial and district level. Various means are used to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to exhibit. As the show is organised twice a year, sooner or later everyone does in fact get a chance.

Various OTOP outlets and nodes are emerging nationwide, including the shopping malls, but these OTOP consumer fairs are the mother-lode, with the greatest diversity of choice.

The fair is visited by thousands of people every day, especially on the weekend. Many come to buy for personal use, others to purchase supplies for businesses such as offices, spas and restaurants. Many also come to source products for exports.

Thanks to low overheads, no booth rentals, strong competition and no credit-card surcharges, the prices are just mouthwatering. The SME owners only have to pay for their own transport and accommodation costs. They are eager to move the products and generate cash-flow.

All the products epitomize the best of ‘Thainess”, elegantly designed, professionally packaged and distinctly unique. Because of the large number of Thai-Muslim exhibitors, the show also meets the national objective of contributing to the development of Southern Thailand provinces as well as the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s latest strategy of positioning Thailand as a “Muslim-friendly destination.”

While the economic potential from attracting more cash-rich visitors is huge, it could also potentially drive prices up for the locals. However, I suspect market forces will eventually allow the prices to find their own level, and the locals will find a way to buy their favourite products at the Thai price rather than the tourist price.

Either way, the benefits will certainly accrue to the SME entrepreneur.

A quick Internet check indicated that OTOP is also expanding into other countries such as the Philippines and Taiwan under the name of One Town One Product.

The dates for the next fair in Bangkok have not yet been announced, but it is usually held in December.

My wife and I enjoyed visiting the OTOP show on Aug 16. As an SME operator myself, I consider myself dutybound to support my SME counterparts across all business sectors.

A pictorial perspective of Thailand’s Best Brands-free SME “Megamall”

 

Products made by the Foundation for People With Disabilities

Products made by the Association of People With Disabilities

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Another booth exhibiting products made by the Association of People With Disabilities. There were four such booths in total.

Fabulous works of art.

Fabulous works of art.

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Some of the artisans in action.

Terrific fashion and textile exhibits.

Terrific fashion and textile exhibits, this one from Nakhon Ratchasima Province in the Northeast

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Fashion products from Phrae Province

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Bedroom products and fashion items from Suphan Buri Province

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Herbal products from Samut Sakhon Province

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Footwear from Prachin Buri Province

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Benjarong items from Uttaradit province.

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Magnificent paintings from Lamphun Province

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Exotic carvings from Loei province

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Buddha images and paintings from Sra Kaew province

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Artwork from dried leaves, Yala Province

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Decoration items made from sea-shells, Phetburi province

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Wood carvings and wall-hangings from Chiang Mai Province

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Wheelchair accessibility is total. Many families bring their senior citizens for a nice outing.

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Job-creation for all. A transgender female staffing one of the stands

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Job-creation for all. This 81-year-old lady, one of a family selling healing balms, gave my wife a shoulder massage.

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Pearls and other jewellery items from the Andaman sea provinces in South Thailand.

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My wife couldn’t resist buying one of the necklaces, only 3,500 baht. Would probably cost thrice the amount in a downtown mall.

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Pearls and other jewellery items from Phang-nga province

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Pearls and other jewellery items from the Andaman sea provinces in South Thailand.

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Elegant Buddha images from Uttaradit province

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Best coffee I ever had, twice as good as Starbucks and half the price.

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Wine from Sakhon Nakhon province

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Wine from Pathum Thani Province

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Foodstuff from Phetburi province

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Delicious Roti from Satul province in South Thailand which has a shared Malay culture with neigbhouring Malaysia.

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A Thai teh-tarek maker in action.

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A Thai teh-tarek maker in action.

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A Thai teh-tarek maker in action.

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A Thai teh-tarek maker in action.

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The food court is always the most popular part of the fair

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This picture gives some idea of how big the show is.

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This picture gives some idea of how big the show is.

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Rest areas.

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If the kids get restless, they can take a break in the play area.

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Performances of folk songs and other entertainment are very much part of the fare.

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At least one person at the teh-tarek stand, manned by Thai-Muslims, was aware of the important link between OTOP and ASEAN.

 

  • Frederic Bardin

    This sounds good, Imtiaz, great initiative by the government. I could well imagine tourists visiting this fair to buy genuine Thai products at ‘original’ prices. I wouldn’t expect all SME employees coming from the provinces to be conversant in English, but I suppose dual language signage could be a first step, if indeed OTOP decides to try and attract farangs – expats or tourists.