17 Aug, 2015
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”