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Tourism, Trade Focus of Thai Official's Trip to Las Vegas

8 August 2005

Las Vegas Sun

by Michelle Swafford

Thailand officials want Nevada businesses to expand into the dynamic Asian country.

Kasit Piromya, Thailand's ambassador to the United States, was in Las Vegas on Friday as part of a 10-day trip of four West states to discuss business opportunities between the two long-friendly nations.

"We need to put our face on the conscience of the American public," Piromya said. "We are not yet known as a business center vis-a-vis Hong King and Singapore."

Piromya met with local and state politicians, economic development directors, business leaders and media, along with other members of his official entourage, including the Thai consul general in Los Angeles, the director of the Thai trade center in Miami, Thai economic investment counselors, and the director of the Thailand-Western USA and Latin America tourism authority.

Gayle Anderson, chief of protocol and director of international trade for Nevada, arranged the meetings, but the trip was financed by the ambassador's office.

The focus of the meetings was on the entertainment, hospitality, health care and household furnishing industries, all of which Thailand is known for or seeks to be known for.

After meeting with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Piromya said he would like to see Thai involvement with the medical center that has been proposed for downtown Las Vegas.

"We're pushing Thailand to be the medical hub of the Asian-Pacific region," Piromya said, adding that 1 million Asians annually travel to Thailand to receive medical treatment.

The United States could supply technology and management expertise to Thailand to enhance its medical offerings, Piromya said.

Thailand also is focusing on herbal medicines, food supplements, generic drugs, HIV preventions and cancer treatments, he said.

Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt met with the ambassador and his entourage to discuss ways to enhance the relationship between Nevada and Thailand and said she would like the Thai officials to meet with University Medical Center staff and medical school leaders on their next trip to Nevada.

"A lot is happening in the medical field here," she said.

Tourism was another hot topic between the visitors and state officials.

Hunt said she offered suggestions on how to market to tourists following last year's tsunami since Nevada encountered a similar travel slowdown following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Thailand also seeks to form more business partnerships to enhance its exports to resorts and real estate developers.

"Las Vegas is an entertainment city (and) we are one of the top suppliers of household goods," Piromya said. "(Our products could be used to) decorate all the condominiums and hotels."

Thailand exports a lot of plasticware, furniture and home furnishings that could complement the city's booming real estate and resort markets and the World Market Center, which features two furniture shows annually, he said.

The hope is that a Thailand distributor would want to open offices in Las Vegas to take advantage of the business options, he said.

Las Vegas resorts and spas could also carry Thailand's herbal medicines and beauty products, Piromya said.

In addition to tourism, Las Vegas offers a great example of how to attract conventions, which is a focus area for Thailand.

The country competes with Singapore; Kuala Lumpur; Malaysia; Hong Kong; and Sydney, Australia, Piromya said, adding that he is trying to convince international companies to hold regional conferences in Thailand.

"If American companies will come, Americans will follow," Piromya said.

About 500,000 Americans visit Thailand each year for its cuisine, shopping, geography and culture, compared with about 60,000 to 100,000 Thai visitors to the United States each year, Piromya said.

Direct flights launched earlier this year from New York City to Bangkok, Thailand, and direct flights scheduled to launch in November from Los Angeles to Bangkok will likely increase the number of visitors in both directions, he said.

Business between Thailand and the United States is somewhat limited because of high tariffs on imported goods, which average 27 percent on American goods entering Thailand and between 7 percent and 12 percent for Thai goods imported into the United States.

President Bush and Thailand officials have been negotiating a free trade agreement between the two nations, but sugar producers, automakers and unions are likely to be critical of it.

There are strong disagreements that must be resolved, but Piromya said he is confident the countries can come to an agreement by phasing in the trade requirements.

The countries' lonstanding friendship -- two centuries and counting -- should make the free trade agreement more desirable than the one that Bush recently signed with Central America and the Dominican Republic.

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