Country Portrait by Manta Klangboonkrong
This year, Greece and Thailand are celebrating their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. As bilateral interactions between the two countries evolve, the potential for a significant upgrade in economic and trade flows has become evident, with promising signals and opportunities emerging in both directions. Significant for both Greece and for Thailand, the Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Embassy of Greece in Bangkok was reactivated in September last year. Its mission is to oversee, promote and enhance bilateral trade and investment, bring together the two business communities and facilitate interaction. The office, which is the first to originally operate within ASEAN, also covers Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and, up until recently, Singapore.
Head of the office and commercial counsellor of the Embassy of Greece in Bangkok is Niki Stefanidou. The young, bright diplomat gave the first interview about the office to Elite+ on her role and mission, and shed light on economic relations between the two countries.
What are the missions and roles of the Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs?
Our mission entails both a hands-on dimension – that is, the enhancement and acceleration of bilateral trade and investment flows through direct support of the Greek business community – as well as an institutional one: enhancing interaction between the authorities of our two countries. We need to create not only the channels but also the common ground that will reinforce existing partnerships and create the space and basis for multiple future ones. We need to make sure that any pending issues creating obstacles to bilateral trade, such as pending import licences for our products, pending bilateral agreements and so on are addressed, that there is smooth information exchange and continuing dialogue among our authorities and that this dialogue leads to joint action towards mutual benefit. In this sense, the creation of an efficient network of interlocutors both in the public as well as in the private sector is both an umbrella target as well as the core of our mission in Thailand.
To this end, ever since I assumed office I have been holding a series of very productive meetings with Thai authorities in the Thai ministries, as well as with the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Travel Agents' Association and any other party that could facilitate, promote and strengthen our bilateral economic and commercial ties. This list of meetings is only growing longer as we expand our network! We are very satisfied with the positive energy for collaboration and exchange that is being created.
At the same time, we are the first point of contact for any trade, investment or tourism-related inquiry by Thai entities, forwarding information and facilitating “We need to create not only the channels but also the common ground that will reinforce existing partnerships and create the space and basis for multiple future ones” interaction with the Greek agencies, chambers of commerce and authorities, should it be required. In short, our office is a living “doing business in Thailand” guide.
Why do business in Greece?
Because of the current opportunities present, the multiple business and investment incentives provided, the highly developed infrastructure in place, as well as the highly skilled human capital in all sectors. The 13.2% rise in the country’s exports and the increase of 29.4% in incoming FDI during the last year, despite all challenges, are clear indicators of how the international business community regards Greece as a recommended business and investment destination.
In terms of trade, what has been the most important exchange between the two countries?
Our overall bilateral trade has been steady over the last few years but presenting considerable scope for enhancement. This is what we are here for! Greece exports to Thailand mainly marble and building materials, spare parts, cotton and chemicals, and imports mainly machinery, textiles and mechanical parts.
So far we haven’t had any large-scale Greek investments in Thailand. We have a few entrepreneurs who have invested in the real estate and hotel sectors, many in the Thai islands. But this activity, in the larger picture, is quite limited. We wish to see Greek companies and conglomerates taking up projects in construction, infrastructure as well as in the energy sector in Thailand, especially in RES [renewable energy]; sectors in which Greek expertise, know-how and experience are well known and established. We are also looking forward to Greek strategic investments in the EEC area, which is currently being highly promoted by the Thai government.
And what Thai-owned businesses are thriving in Greece?
We’ve only had a few Thai-owned businesses in Greece, mostly in the “import-export” sector. They are essentially acting as intermediaries for Thai products of all types into the Greek and, by extension, the European market. As per investments, our office is registering a growing interest from the Thai side, especially in areas where the prices have fallen considerably in Greece recently, such as real estate, hotels and restaurants. The tourism sector as per Thai business interest is also picking up considerably, with multiple collaborations. Still, we are looking forward to large-scale Thai investments, strategic investments, [such as] Thai participation in the large privatization scheme in place by the Greek government, through the Hellenic Republic Public Asset Development Plan, as well as participation in all types of investment projects promoted by Enterprise Greece, our official trade and promotion agency.
The section also promotes tourism to Greece. What’s the situation so far?
We are very pleased to register a growing interest from Thai travellers, evident in the growing numbers of visas issued by our consular office to Thai visitors to Greece every year. We are confident that this trend will be maintained and expanded, as the Thai travellers’ community becomes more acquainted with the touristic product that our country has to offer, not only in terms of history, culture and local colour, hence not only in terms of attractions, but also in terms of the hospitality infrastructure in place. Overall, we are talking 16,000 kilometres of coastline, more than 6,000 islands and islets, more than 700,000 hotel beds and more than 500 conference facilities. If you add our more than 6,000 yachting berths, plus the direct air links from major European airports to more than 20 destinations in the country, you can understand how Greece is justly being promoted as a key option to Thai travellers, not only as a single destination, but also as part of a wider tour in the region. We welcome 3,000 Thai visitors to Greece each year and the numbers are growing.
What do Thai visitors like about Greece?
We are very pleased that Thai visitors identify Greece as a year-round destination. Because of the tropical climate in Thailand, Greece is steadily growing as a preferred holiday destination for the Thais, especially during otherwise, by Western standards, off-peak seasons. We are also very pleased that the average profile of Thai travellers to Greece is middle to upper class, with growing interest by the latter, including celebrities, which translates to a maintained preference for upscale destinations within Greece, luxury resorts and high-end tourism packages. Touring, cruising and sailing figure amongst the top activities, with an emergent interest in specialized tourism, such as wellness, medical, trekking and mountaineering, gastronomy and wine-tasting, and religious tourism. Packages include tours of sacred sites, old Christian monuments and monasteries all over the country, as well as World Heritage tours. Greece has a total of 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites, placing it among the top 10 countries worldwide.
Greece also figures amongst the top wedding destinations worldwide, with the Aegean and Ionian islands – the famous and trendy ones, as well as the smaller, less known but equally stunning ones – offering an unrivalled wedding experience to those who choose them. We are very happy to report that Thai visitors have already placed on their maps and in their hearts Greece as an all-time favourite, not only for their vacations, but for their weddings as well!
What have been your efforts so far to promote Greek tourism in Thailand?
On a government level, as I mentioned earlier, I have already had very productive meetings with the Thai authorities and agencies in order to explore the potential of G2G collaborations in a two-way promotion strategy, consistent and growing in the long term. On a private sector level, our office has initiated collaboration with TTAA, with the aim of bringing together the tour operators from our countries and encouraging them to work together. We need more interaction! Furthermore Greece, through the participation of our office, is now member of the TTAA-NTOs club. This informal club, through its regular meetings, constitutes a very productive platform for the exchange of information and promotion of our touristic product, for dialogue on trending tourism-related issues as well as for synergies in tourism promotion activities. In addition to all that, we participate in tourism promotion initiatives by other Greek and Thai Agencies, such as the newly established Hellenic-Thai Chamber of Commerce. Our most recent participation was in the very successful 2nd “Outbound Travel Bazaar-Bangkok & Hanoi, 2018”, organized by the Hellenic-Thai Chamber of Commerce, with the support and under the auspices of the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism and the embassies of Greece in Bangkok and Hanoi. My presentation was titled "Business and Leisure: Greece, the Ultimate destination!" Our office is also planning its own events, hopefully the first one to take place before the end of the year.
What is your advice to Thai entrepreneurs looking for business opportunities in Greece?
I would advise them to get acquainted with our country, its business and investment climate and all that it has to offer, because it is a lot. Our office is at the disposal of any interested party, for any information or guidance required. Moreover, I would advise them to visit Greece. Meet its people, experience the famous Greek hospitality, understand our culture. In other words, I would advise that they open their eyes to the value of doing business within a safe, stable environment, in an enchanting setting, in a welcoming country at the crossroads of three continents!