11 July 2024

Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand were re-established in 2022, ending several decades of rift between the two countries. This led to growing economic cooperation. Thai entrepreneurs had been eager to do business with Saudi Arabia for a long time and the opportunity that the normalisation of relations provided led to some entrepreneurs becoming feverish when thinking about the Saudi market.

Thailand is rapidly developing in the deep tech sector, providing new AI solutions and being a leading country in cryptocurrencies. There is high demand for expertise in emerging technologies in Saudi Arabia, because of the Crown Prince’s vision for the country’s future, expertise that Thai start-ups and SMEs are willing to provide.

Mohammed bin Salman has been looking to diversify the Saudi economy, away from oil dependency, and to revitalize the country with ambitious projects. This plan towards a more sustainable economy is known as “Vision 2030”. If it goes through, a future could be envisioned where rose oil would be as much of a valuable export for Saudi Arabia as petroleum products are today.

To support that vision, Saudi Arabia has been collaborating with companies from around the world, but only with the best. For instance, “The Journey”, an animation film about Meccan history, was made by a Japanese director, who worked on the series Detective Conan, Kōbun Shizuno, together with Toei Animation.

Thai companies outside the capital, in remote areas, often struggle to find sufficient funds for their enterprises. Major incentives pushing them to develop closer business partnerships with the Saudis are their eagerness to find the best talent and the ease with which they help foreign companies that fit their criteria. Saudi Arabia is in the process of setting up accelerated platforms for Thai start-ups and has allocated funds to them.

“We love them in terms of doing business, because we know that where there is the money, there is the treasure. All the ideas that we have, we would love to use the money to expand them and to create a business, that is how Thai people feel right now,” says Thai-Saudi relations expert Alhuda Chanitpattana.

The Thai Trade Exhibition and the Mega Fair and Festival will be held in Riyadh this year, in August and December respectively. They are expected to attract 12,000 visitors each. Saudi Arabia supports Thai companies wanting to exhibit their products on its soil, by providing each of them with around 200,000 baht, or around US$5,700, which is a significant amount of money for SMEs in Thailand. More than 80 Thai SMEs will be present during the first exhibition in August.

“There are still limited Thai companies there, but I have seen them, because there was one flight, on which I was going to Saudi, and I met a lot of Thai engineers going to work on the NEOM project.”

It will take time for Thai high-tech companies to put down roots in the Saudi market and their success in the country remains uncertain. Other industries have already got a foothold and are on their way to taking advantage of the renewed relations and building long-lasting business relations. This entails tourism, with the halal label gaining momentum in Thailand, and Muslim hotels starting to operate, Thai cuisine, with many Thai restaurants opening in Riyadh and other major cities, and health, in the shape of cosmetics, spas, Thai massage and medical tourism.

“If you are stuck on the road in Riyadh, which is the capital city of Saudi Arabia, you will see on the screen there tourism advertisements about Phuket, Pattaya and, you know every tourist attraction there, in the capital. So, right now, if Saudis see Thai people, they will let you know. ‘Oh my god, I would love to go to Thailand.’ Thai people would love to welcome all the Saudi tourists into our country as well. So, I think the relationship can go very deep,” says Alhuda.

By Aymen Belkadi, Thai PBS World