Captains of the ship
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Captains of the ship

Leaders of private industry have steered their respective sectors through a year of significant challenges, and now focus on what 2024 holds in store for them.

Thailand's economy this year was challenged by several critical events inside and outside the country, notably the general election in May, as a new cabinet was not formed until September.

During the political vacuum of almost four months after the election, which resulted in a delayed budget allocation, the private sector worked to sustain industries amid multiple headwinds, particularly the fluctuation of the baht, soaring power tariffs, interest rate hikes, and external threats from geopolitical wars.

The leading figures and entrepreneurs of key industries played a vital role as Thailand struggled to recover from the pandemic.

The trade facilitator

Mr Chaichan says shipping costs have significantly decreased to previous averages, or even lower than pre-pandemic levels in some instances.

Chaichan Charoensuk, chairman of the Thai National Shippers' Council (TNSC), which represents a consortium of Thai exporters, consistently provides insightful perspectives, valuable recommendations, and caution regarding international trade matters.

Selected for a second term (2023-2024) by the TNSC board in April of this year, Mr Chaichan played a key part in addressing a significant increase in shipping costs and the country's falling exports during the pandemic.

He worked with the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the World Trade Organization, and the Federal Maritime Commission to align shipping costs with actual expenses and promote fair trade.

Mr Chaichan also led the council to host Global Shippers' Alliance and Asian Shippers' Alliance meetings in Thailand to collectively address shipping cost issues with exporters from around the world.

Shipping costs have now significantly dipped to previous averages, even lower than pre-pandemic levels in some instances.

Under his guidance, the TNSC intensified its efforts to enhance support for exports, trade facilitation, and cost reduction for exporters targeting the Middle East.

The council collaborated with the World Logistics Passport (WLP) to promote trade between Thailand and the Middle East, with a particular focus on the United Arab Emirates, as it serves as a gateway to other countries in the Middle East and Africa within the WLP network.

This collaboration is expected to boost Thailand's exports to the Middle East by 5% this year.

To ensure efficient and obstacle-free trade growth, the TNSC also partnered with the Justice Ministry through the Thailand Arbitration Center to establish the Thailand Logistics Arbitration Center, addressing disputes for exporters with various agencies.

For his second term, Mr Chaichan is committed to spearheading market expansion in three key regions: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam; the Middle East; and South Asia. His objective is to create new trade opportunities for exporters, especially given the uncertainties surrounding traditional key markets.

Furthermore, Mr Chaichan is poised to champion Thailand's efforts in negotiating free trade agreements, aiming to generate competitive opportunities and enhance the value chain across various industries.

He said the council is collaborating with relevant agencies to raise awareness and prepare for non-tariff barriers, including the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, decarbonisation and carbon credits, all of which have significant implications for Thailand's export products.

In line with these initiatives, Mr Chaichan is advocating for amendments to trade-related laws, such as those pertaining to transshipment.

He is also working to establish a sandbox at Laem Chabang port, among other strategic initiatives aimed at fostering trade and economic growth.

Power bill fighter

Mr Kriengkrai is regularly at the forefront of calls for the government to better control energy costs in the country.

Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), has been at the forefront of calls for the government to better control energy costs in the country.

His role, with the FTI and the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking (JSCCIB), became more noticeable when the Russia-Ukraine war caused a surge in global energy prices, eventually driving up electricity bills in Thailand.

Expensive power bills are a serious economic issue in the country as they not only increase the cost of living, but also add a greater financial burden for businesses.

Last year the power tariff, which is used to calculate power bills, stood at a record high of 4.72 baht per kilowatt-hour (unit).

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) resolved in late 2022 to increase the tariff early this year, but Mr Kriengkrai wanted authorities to reconsider the rate adjustment.

He said Thailand was facing an inflation hike and economic uncertainties caused by geopolitical conflicts.

According to Mr Kriengkrai, if the rate soared, entrepreneurs in the FTI might need to increase product prices by 5-12%.

The ERC ultimately decided to increase the rate by 13% to 5.33 baht per unit for businesses, applicable from January to April this year, while households continued to pay 4.72 baht a unit.

From May to August, both businesses and households paid the same rate of 4.7 baht a unit.

As the price of liquefied natural gas decreased, which is used as fuel for power generation, the regulator continued to lower the power tariff, opting for 4.45 baht a unit for the final four months of this year.

Then the cabinet formed by the Pheu Thai Party further cut the tariff to 3.99 baht a unit.

When the ERC announced it needed to increase the power tariff again for the first four-month cycle of next year, it was Mr Kriengkrai at a JSCCIB meeting rallying business leaders to call on the government to slow down the rate hike to help firms better control goods prices and avoid negative impacts on consumers.

Thai AirAsia continues to soar

Ms Santisuk was recently named best CEO for resilient leadership by the Bangkok Post.

Amid fierce competition in aviation after the pandemic, Thai AirAsia (TAA) still maintains the largest market share on domestic routes, with strong airfares and improving ticket sales.

Santisuk Klongchaiya, TAA chief executive, said by maintaining sufficient resources, including aircraft and crew, the airline was able to take off faster than others after Thailand reopened.

The airline has improved average airfares since the beginning of the year, exceeding the 2019 rate despite lower passenger numbers. During the first nine months of this year, TAA served more than 13.8 million passengers across both domestic and international routes, largely driven by significant increases in ticket sales from 2022, and is on track to reach its target of 20 million this year.

The airline secured a 38% domestic market share, the largest in Thailand, flying more than 2.71 million passengers in the third quarter with a 93% load factor.

TAA increased its service to accommodate 3.36 million domestic seats in the fourth quarter, banking on robust domestic travel demand, as well as a foreign visitor influx from China, India and Taiwan, which have been granted visa exemptions.

With a maximum of 105 domestic daily flights, TAA operates 32 domestic routes, with 24 flying from Bangkok. The airline also opened 20 more international routes from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai.

Highlights include flights from Bangkok to Chinese cities: Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Kunming, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Changsha. TAA also connects Chiang Mai to new Chinese destinations.

Its capacity in the first nine months recovered to 77% of the 2019 level, compared with 37% recorded in the same period last year.

Mr Santisuk said TAA aims for a 91% recovery to the 2019 level in the fourth quarter, utilising 50 planes by year-end out of a total fleet of 54, an improvement from 45. The load factor for the year should be maintained at 87%, while enhancing the aircraft utilisation rate to 12.5 hours and a 90% on-time performance, he said.

The company plans to further adjust airfares to cater to the high season, prioritising profitability, said Mr Santisuk.

He was recently named best chief executive for resilient leadership by the Bangkok Post.

Visionary culinary entrepreneur

Ms Atchara unveiled five restaurants, comprising both new and existing brands, at the Emsphere project on Sukhumvit Road this December.

Every year witnesses the launch of new restaurants in the Thai market, and Atchara Burarak, the visionary founder of Iberry Group, consistently rides the wave of culinary innovation.

With a track record of introducing 1-2 new brands annually, Iberry Group, under Ms Atchara's leadership, has expanded its footprint with tens of new restaurant branches a year.

Today she is celebrated as a prominent figure in the food industry, with ownership of 14 restaurant brands and more than 60 branches, including acclaimed premium grilled pork at Chin Bo Dang and Oh My God Mother.

Both premium restaurant brands received positive responses from loyal customers, adding to the group's brand portfolio.

Ms Atchara's culinary empire spans diverse cuisines, from premium boat noodles and street food to authentic Thai seafood, shabu, cakes and bakery delights.

Operating mainly through three distinct companies -- Iberry Homemade, Thongsmith Siam and The Patter Mahanakorn -- she manages a spectrum of brands, each contributing to the rich tapestry of Thai gastronomy.

Despite economic fluctuations, Ms Atchara's unwavering passion for cooking has fuelled a continuous stream of new restaurant projects.

Her ventures consistently garner swift acceptance from both local patrons and foreign enthusiasts.

While Covid-19 left its mark on Iberry Group, Ms Atchara's resilience and strategic acumen enabled a rapid business turnaround.

Following the pandemic, she introduced innovative concepts such as Fran's Brunch and Greens, An Com An Ca Vietnamese food, and Fa Pla Tahn fish and rice.

This year, the anticipated Chin Bo Dang premium grilled pork (moo kra tha) made its debut at The Emquartier.

December brought another milestone, with Ms Atchara unveiling five restaurants, comprising both new and existing brands, at the Emsphere project on Sukhumvit Road.

Behind this string of successes lies a commitment to quality raw materials for an exceptional culinary experience, maintaining brand integrity, fostering teamwork, and cultivating strategic partnerships across various domains, she said.

Voice for all hotels

Mrs Marisa was chosen as a woman of the year by the Bangkok Post in 2022, representing the hospitality sector, mainly attributed for her role during the pandemic crisis.

A healthier number of foreign tourists this year bodes well for a hotel sector that should post higher occupancy rates, in stark contrast to the quiet three-year pandemic period of 2020-22.

However, the Thai Hotels Association (THA), which has more than 1,000 members across the country at all levels, said the recovery has been uneven as midscale and budget hotels, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are still suffering because of weak demand from middle class Thai tourists and the Chinese.

THA president Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi voiced concerns about this issue several times.

The association's monthly survey of its members found details the government might miss if looking only at the surface numbers, such as total foreign arrivals.

Post-pandemic, Mrs Marisa said the gap between large and small hotels widened, attributed to a digital disparity as small players did not take advantage of IT or have enough digital tools to compete in the market.

She said THA initiated "Digital Days" to help 200 hotels bridge this gap, as the association cooperated with partners to provide digital development programmes for hotel operators.

THA marked its 60th anniversary in November this year -- a milestone Mrs Marisa said is an opportunity to look back at both achievements and unsuccessful attempts to help the sector.

She said the association should have a more intensive role in helping local hotels amid a fluctuating environment that will continue into next year.

Before leading the THA, Mrs Marisa worked for it as environment chairwoman. She pushed members to enrol in "Green Leaf" standards to be accredited as green hotels.

With more demand requiring the supply side to prioritise the environment, Mrs Marisa said the THA this year has worked closely with the Thai Chamber of Commerce to initiate sustainable standards to help hotels conduct self-assessment programmes and sustainably improve their products and services.

This year, the THA president was also selected to join the 11 sectors of soft power promotion, being the key representative for tourism.

She was chosen as a woman of the year by the Bangkok Post in 2022, representing the hospitality sector, mainly attributed to her outstanding role during the pandemic.

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