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Enlisting Chinese influencers to hawk goods is Thailand’s new idea to boost exports

A woman browses traditional holiday clothing ahead of Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, 2 Feb 2024. (Photo: Andre Malerba/Bloomberg)
A woman browses traditional holiday clothing ahead of Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, 2 Feb 2024. (Photo: Andre Malerba/Bloomberg)

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Suttinee Yuvejwattana

(Bloomberg) — Thailand is planning to enlist Chinese social-media influencers to hawk things from the so-called elephant pants to local sweet delicacies to their followers back home, as part of the Southeast Asian nation’s bid to shore up exports to the world’s No. 2 economy.

Thirty to 50 of China’s top influencers will be invited to Thailand for a week in May, Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai said in an interview to Bloomberg News in Bangkok on Tuesday. The intent is to get them to livestream about Thai goods, he said.

“The world is changing,” Phumtham said. “We have to think about new ways of selling things.”

What’s in it for the influencers? The government will share profits from the sales with them to incentivise their efforts. “If it fails, we lose nothing,” Phumtham said. “If it’s successful, we plan to expand this tactics to other things.”

While Thailand has in the past thought up the idea of tapping influencers to boost tourism, the latest initiative comes after exports to China dropped for the first time in seven years in 2022 – relegating the Asian giant to the no. 2 spot for Thai goods after the US. Ensuring growth of exports is key to achieving Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s goal to boost annual economic output to 5% during his term.

That’s an ambitious target for an economy, where growth has averaged just 1.8% in the past decade, making it the region’s laggard. That performance was due to cycles of military coups and political instability, which eroded investor confidence and competitiveness against peers like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Exports, a key engine of the Thai economy, contracted 1% in 2023 after notching 5.4% growth in 2022. The Commerce Ministry set up a 2024 working target of 1%-2% export growth, while the Finance Ministry forecast a 4.2% rise in the sector that normally accounts for about half of the country’s gross domestic product.

‘Boys love’

In tandem with the plan to use Chinese influencers to grow exports, Thailand is also exploring ways to promote local products and tourist destinations through placements in an upcoming “boys love” television series. The government has tapped two popular Thai heartthrobs who command a massive following across Southeast Asian markets, China, South Korea and Japan to help with the mass-marketing effort through their upcoming new show called “Shine.”

Phumtham recalled meeting the actors, Phakphum “Mile” Romsaithong and Nattawin “Apo” Wattanagitiphat, last week to launch the project in front of hundreds of screaming fans — many of whom hailed from neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.

The government also will unveil a pair of “girls love” actresses who have been recruited to join the initiative ahead of a Pride Month event in June.

“I didn’t understand the power of love until after the press conference,” Phumtham said, adding that he expected the collaboration to generate about 2 billion baht (US$560.8 million) of economic value.

In December, Thailand’s parliament passed the first reading a draft amendment of the country’s Civil and Commercial Code to legalise same-sex marriage. The so-called “marriage equality bill” is expected to clear all parliamentary approvals by August, Phumtham said.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.