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Thailand Innovation Opportunities

by: Maarten Koopmans - Technopolis Group


Why should I read this document?


When confronted with the differences between your own market and the market of Thailand you will likely feel that you have to adapt your product/service significantly to make it fit the preferences and expendable income of local people. While many may see this as a challenge this can also proof to be a great opportunity for your company! Adapting to a new market, like Thailand, will allow your company to innovate. Not only will operating in Thailand lead to new insights to be more successful in Thailand, you will most likely also pick up on ideas to be more successful in your home market.


This document provides a short overview of innovation aspects, business opportunities and challenges in Thailand. It will also give advice on best practices for starting and developing an innovative business venture, considering Thailand’s country context. May it help you to explore Thailand and lead you to innovation and success.


Opportunities and tips for innovation and doing business in Thailand


  • Thailand is the second largest economy in South East Asia, following Indonesia. Thailand is an upper-middle-income country, with a well-diversified economy and strong growth since the 1970s. The economy is expected to grow in the coming years at an annual rate of 3.6%.
  • Thailand  has a large consumer market, where e-commerce is growing rapidly, with 57 mln. internet users, therefore entering this market offers potential for European SMEs. Branding and influencing through social media are decisive factors in the Thai e-commerce market.
  • Manufacturing is a driver of the Thai economy, the country has the 12th biggest car-manufacturing industry, and electronics exports are also significant. Recent growth has been particularly spurred by high electronics exports, manufacturing being a driver of the economy with a shift towards higher-value-added products. However, many important components of the electronic value chain are still imported from abroad, such as semiconductors and transistors, therefore local producition is an opportunity.
  • Tourism is another strong driver of the Thai economy, it represents over 11% (2016) of the GDP and is an important contributor to foreign currency trade. The country attracted 35.3 mln. tourists in 2017, which means it has entered the top 10 of most visited travel destinations. FDI magazine has placed Thailand as number one location for investments in tourism. Currently, areas outside of the traditional tourist regions are under development, representing a lucrative investment opportunity. Rises in infrastructure spending, which have occurred in rapid succession since the 1990s, enable the exploitation of new areas.
  • The primary sector remains important in Thailand. The country is a leading exporter of rice and it is rich in natural resources like, amongst others, coal, iron, gold, copper, gas and tin. Thailand further plans to improve agriculture output by use of innovation related to biotechnology. Capacity to implement new projects has been growing, due to graduation of 7000 biotech students per year.
  • Thailand has a good startup climate and the country benefits from trade relations within ASEAN. It has a good infrastructure to settle your SME, such as the Digital Park Thailand, which has high broadband speeds and good policy support through Thailand 4.0 on digital infrastructure. Startup Thailand is the Thai national promotion platform to offer support to businesses and encourage startups in the country to grow and attract talent.


On Level 2 you can find information about innovation climate in Thailand, while Level 3 will tell you more about business activities in Thailand.



This page will tell you about innovation ecosystem, major technology sectors, innovation and business practices in Thailand.


Innovation ecosystem


The government of Thailand has recognised the importance of science, technology and innovation for economic development in order to escape the “middle-income trap”. The country has initiated various public policies and programmes to encourage innovation. The Agenda for Thailand 4.0 focuses on transition to a high-income country by investing in science, technology and innovation. In particular focus are the development of technology clusters for future industries, the incubation of start-ups and the deployment of support networks between reserachers, technology-developers and entrepreneurs. However, cluster policies have had limited success in the past, according to the OECD, and it should be noted that institutions promoting STI are recognised by the international community to be not very effective. While investment in R&D is of reasonable level, they include mainly public funding sources. Furthermore, a lack of ICT infrastructure in the periphery excludes many actors in the country to participate in innovative business. Although investment in R&D by the private sector has increased by 360% between 2008 and 2014,  it is still low in absolute terms. The Company R&D Facilitation Centre offers support to companies in investment for R&D, while initiatives such as Thailand Science Park offer infrastructure for innovative companies.


Further initiatives include the promotion of startup development, by: encouraging business ideas, providing incentives to investors, and supporting incubating startups. This includes both financial support by the government, capacity-building and increasing and facilitating regional and international connectivity. Despite these initiatives, labour productivity growth in Thailand remains unimpressive, at around 3% per year, whereas expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP remains at around 0.6%, far below the OECD average (around 2.5%).


The rate of enrolment of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which are most important for industry, is around (20%). This is below the OECD average (25%). Quality of higher education and life-long learning will need to improve in order to further Thailand 4.0. Accordingly, the government has set the goal of improving the number of publications and the rankings of universities in Thailand.


Innovation sectors and technology


The government of Thailand actively supports the transition towards a high-income country. With the Thailand 4.0 policy, it plans to focus on 5 established and 5 new industries. The established industries are: automotive, smart electronics, tourism, agriculture and biotechnology, and food. The new industries are: robotics, aviation and logistics, biofuels and biochemicals, digital, and medical technology/service. The “Super-Cluster” policy published by the Thailand Board of Investment, focuses on developing these clusters. The National Competitiveness Enhancement for Targeted Industries Act provides incentives to investors, such as long-term tax exemptions and import duty exemptions. The Thailand 4.0 has already been successful, with Thailand climbing 20 spots on the Ease of Doing Business ranking (46 to 26) in the year 2018.


According to the World Bank, the need for Thailand to innovate further is essential. However while investments in technology are profitable actual investment remains low. In the digital sector, the World Bank sees good potential and a need for international expertise and innovation, such as the e-commerce market. Local SMEs can are good possibilities to partner with, as SMEs in Thailand are leading in ASEAN regarding planned technology spending.


In manufacturing, technological innovation will continue to benefit from Foreign Direct Investments, which is expected to boost productivity. The services sector is expected to grow due to the home-based demand for e-commerce.


Innovation culture and practices


In Thailand, around a half of population is self-employed, according to estimates of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This indicates an entrepreneurial spirit of population. A recent national survey conducted found that 77% of Thai people have a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship and feel empowered to start a business. Furthermore, the attitude of young people is also seen to be changing, favouring success earlier in life.


The majority of Thai entrepreneurs start a business that does not require significant financial investment. This indicates a lack of resources, as well as, the unwillingness to take business risks. For example, the transportation sector has the highest share of self-employed in Thailand, due to low costs of doing business. In contrast, the intensity of technology transfers is relatively low, as a result of unwillingness of businessmen to take risks, to try, integrate and further develop foreign products. Hence, the level of innovativeness of local produce is relatively low. While the older generation of Thai is considered quite conservative and risk-averse, the attitude of young people towards more sophisticated innovation is improving, due to numerous government initiatives in education sector and in (digital) infrastructure.



This page highlights major economic sectors and iconic products, shows business trends and explains how easy it is to do business in Thailand. In addition, you will find the list of websites, which provide some hands-on information.


What is the country known for?




The biggest sectors are machinery, transportation and plastics and rubbers. The fastest growing sectors are tourism and manufacturing.
The services sector represents 55.6% of GDP in 2017, while industry accounts for 36.2% and the agricultural sector for 8.2% of GDP.


Iconic products


Computers, integrated circuits, telephones, cars, delivery trucks, rubber, tires, rice, gold, fish, LCDs, polymers.


How easy is it to do business in Thailand?


Based on the World Bank ranking:


  Thailand EU average Emerging markets average
Overall - ease of doing business 26 30 83


The process of starting business in Thailand is relatively easy. It scores well on the ease of doing business ranking managed by the World Bank Group, better than the EU average. Starting a business in Thailand can take three separate forms: Registered Ordinary or Limited Partnership, Representative/Regional/Brand office, or Limited Company. It is important to note that foreigners can technically, according to the law, not own land in Thailand. However, it is possible to set up a Limited Company to own the land or to lease land. Registering property, dealing with construction permits and enforcing contracts are ranked relatively low on the ease of doing business score. It is, however, advisable to use the services of experts when starting a business in Thailand.


Business trends in Thailand


Major trends in Thailand related to the digital economy are, amongst others, growth of the digital consumer market, amongst others the growth of the customer-to-business (C2B) model and e-commerce. C2B includes group-buying, customisation and personalisation, which offers plenty of opportunities for SMEs to provide new products and services. Brands are important in the Thai consumer market and women have substantially increased purchasing power. Thai women are decision-makers on purchasing household products.


The e-commerce market in the ASEAN countries is one of the fastest growing in the world. E-commerce in Thailand is expected to grow from 3% to 10% of the market and is currently growing in double digit figures. Popular websites in Thailand include Pantip, Lazada, and Tarad. The social media model influences the purchases, according to the Boston Consulting Group. It indicates that 40% of total purchase are influenced through social medial platforms, where people buy from others and from small businesses. Social commerce (purchases through social media platforms) are used by 51% of online shoppers. Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce also is a promising sector. Companies use B2B platforms to increase productivity.


More hands-on info






Level 1:


Oxford Business Group. (2016). Thailand’s consumers shift towards modern retail options. Retrieved from:
The World Bank. (2018). Thailand Economic Monitor – June 2016: Aging Society and Economy. Retrieved from:
Economic Intelligence Centre. (2017). Social Commerce: An E-Commerce trend to rival Lazada. Retrieved from:
The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2017). Thailand 4.0. Retrieved from:
Thailand Board of Investment. (2013). Thailand’s Electrical and Electronics Industry. Retrieved from:
Tourism industry in Thailand. (2017). RVO. Retrieved from:
Thailand tourism. (2018). Oxford Business Group. Retrieved from: / Tourism Authority of Thailand Launches 2018 Marketing Plan. (2017). Tourismtattler. Retrieved from:
Digital Park Thailand. (2017). Thailand Board of Investment. Retrieved from: /
Thailand as sea’s emerging startup hub. (2018). Business Sweden. Retrieved from:
CIA World Factbook. (2018). CIA. Retrieved from:
Business Thailand. (2018). ASEANUP. Retrieved from:
Innovation platform. (2018). Thailand. Retrieved from:
Multi-dimensional review of Thailand. (2018). Retrieved from:
SME Policy Index ASEAN. (2018). OECD. Retrieved from:
Thailand: Economic and Political Outline. (2018). Santander trade. Retrieved from:
Tourism Locations of the Future 2017/18: Thailand triumphs in inaugural awards. (2017). FDI Intelligence. Retrieved from:
How Thailand is bringing technology to the table. (2018). CNBC. Retrieved from:
Thailand 20 Year Strategic Plan and Reforms. (2016). The Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board. Retrieved from:
Thailand Science Park. (2010). The Scientist. Retrieved from:


Level 2:


Science, Technology & Innovation Policy Review: Thailand. (2015). UNCTAD. Retrieved from:
Thailand 4.0. (2018). Thai Embassy. Retrieved from:
Agenda 3: Incubate Entrepreneurs and Develop Networks of Innovation-Driven Enterprise. (2018). Thai Embassy. Retrieved from:
Multi-dimensional country review of Thailand. (2018). OECD. Retrieved from:
Agenda 2: Development of Technology Cluster and Future Industries. (2018). Thai Embassy. Retrieved from:
Thailand indicator. (2018). The World Bank Group. Retrieved from:
Thailand Economic Monitor. (2018) The World Bank Group. Retrieved from:
ASEAN SMEs: Are you transforming for the future? (2018). Ernst & Young et al. Retrieved from:$FILE/ey-asean-smes-are-you-transforming-for-the-future.pdf


Level 3:


Thailand’s Economic Outlook. (2018). IMF. Retrieved from:
CIA World Factbook. (2018). CIA. Retriever from:
Thailand country profile. (2018). Atlas Media. Retrieved from:
Ease of doing business index. (2017). The World Bank Group. Retrieved from:
Doing Business 2019: Training for Reform, Economy Profile Thailand. (2018). The World Bank Group. Retrieved from:
E-commerce predicted to capture 10% of Thai retail segment. (2018). The Bangkok Post. Retrieved from:
Three big trends for Thai business in Digital Era in 2018. (2017). SCB Economic Intelligence Centre. Retrieved from:
Five consumer trends to watch in Thailand. (2017). The Boston Consulting Group. Retrieved from:
Thailand Country Commercial Guide. (2018). Retrieved from:
Social Commerce: An e-Commerce trend to rival Lazada. (2017). SCB Economic Intelligence Center. Retrieved from:


Last updated: 01.04.2022 - 15:13
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