Invest in Thailand, get a trip to the beach

Spa pampering, dinner with the prime minister, speedy lines at the airport. These are just a few of the ways that Thailand is expressing thanks to a group of foreign investors it has designated “Thailand’s Best Friends.”

BANGKOK, Thailand — Spa pampering, dinner with the prime minister, speedy lines at the airport. These are just a few of the ways that Thailand is expressing thanks to a group of foreign investors it has designated “Thailand’s Best Friends.”

The campaign is part of the government’s efforts to convince the international community that Thailand remains a friendly place to do business, despite concerns of political instability after 10 weeks of bloody anti-government protests that ended in mid-May. The protests crippled parts of central Bangkok and left nearly 90 people dead and more than 1,400 wounded in clashes with security forces.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva invited 150 of the top importers of Thai goods from 43 countries for a four-day expenses paid trip this week that includes spa pampering and horseback rides down the beach.

The event cost the Ministry of Commerce 72 million baht (US$2.2 million), said an event spokesman Upathum Nisitsukharoen, but that’s just a fraction of what it’s getting in return. Orders from the foreign companies — selected by Thailand’s top exporters — are expected to exceed 66 billion baht ($2 billion) this year.

Exports represented 58 per cent of Thailand’s GDP in 2009 and the ministry expects exports to grow by 14 per cent in 2010, despite the political turmoil that badly hurt other sectors of the economy.

“This is a gesture of our appreciation to you, who are our valuable customers, our ’best friends’ and our real friends,” Abhisit told the group, which was invited to Government House on Wednesday for a welcome ceremony followed by dinner.

The group boarded a train Thursday to the beach resort town of Hua Hin, where spa treatments and horseback rides were among the offerings. Over the next two years, the investors will be treated to special discounts at hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions, fast-track immigration processing at the airport and a hot line to the Ministry of Commerce.

The ministry started the “Thailand Best Friends” campaign a year ago with 50 companies but organizers decided this year to triple the number and throw in new gifts.

like the beach trip as it seeks to stimulate exports and restore confidence.

One foreign beneficiary expressed relief that the political upheaval were over.

“I am very proud to be involved in something that shows Thailand in a positive light,” said Mark Whaley, the Bangkok-based managing director of Britain-based Westbridge Foods, which imports seafood and poultry from Thailand.

Whaley’s photograph and 100 others were featured in a front-page advertising supplement in The Bangkok Post newspaper this week that extended, “A Warm Welcome to Thailand’s Best Friends.”

A Thai textile manufacturer, Jittikun Chiempitayanuvat, who nominated three of his clients for the event, said Thailand needs more than junkets to woo rattled investors.

“To have a better image (of Thailand) after the protest, they need to do more than this, and solve problems internally,” he said.