Google on the Internet: Thailand's 'next big opportunity'

This morning, Google--which opened its first ever office in Thailand last week--provided an English version of a feature article posted to its Thai blog on the subject of the Internet and its great opportunity in Thailand.The article, provided below, emphasizes Google's efforts pushing the case for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and for them to use the Internet--in particular, Web sites and advertisements--to develop.
Written by Dwight Turner, Contributor

This morning, Google--which opened its first ever office in Thailand last week--provided an English version of a feature article posted to its Thai blog on the subject of the Internet and its great opportunity in Thailand.

The article, provided below, emphasizes Google's efforts pushing the case for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and for them to use the Internet--in particular, Web sites and advertisements--to develop.

Side note: it is interesting to note that Thailand sends more users to Google Maps, I presume this to be proportionate of course.


Thailand's Next Big Opportunity

By Ariya Panomyong, Country Business Manager Google Thailand

One of Google's big hits in Thailand always gives me mixed feelings and that's our traffic information on Google Maps. In fact, no other country in the world sends as many visitors to that feature as Thailand does.

That's great and depressing. It's great because now even an offline experience like driving is navigated via the Internet. But that intense demand comes from a depressing source: Bangkok's streets are clogged, the average commute is 200 minutes a day per person and people are desperate to avoid spending time stuck in cars looking at other cars.

My frustration is that a lot of Thailand's online potential is not being harnessed and we're doing the digital equivalent of sitting in traffic. On the surface, things are going great for Thais online. Just over six months ago, we had 20 million people online. Today we've reached 25 million. Despite the phenomenal growth, there's still a lot of pent-up demand for a bigger Internet, a faster Internet, a truly Thai Internet.

For instance, recent research from the Asian Consumer Commerce Barometer shows that 8 out of 10 Thais who use the Internet have researched a product online before they make a decision to buy it, online or offline.

So even away from the computer and with the phone off, Thai consumers are making purchase decisions as an online activity. But according to the National Office of Statistics and the Office of SME Promotion, only one Thai business out of ten has a Web site. Those nine companies without a Web site are doing the equivalent of taking hundreds of potential customers' contact details and burning them.

So why don't those businesses have a Web site? We recently launched a campaign together with our partners to help get Thai businesses online and the thing we've found is that it just takes a little faith to go a long way. Businesses often assume the Internet is for a particular type of business, typically other kinds of businesses, or other kinds of people--fashionable people with the latest phones or tech savvy people. But actually, every business can use the Internet, just as every business currently uses electricity.

For instance, does a Thai folk-opera-costume tailor seem like an Internet business to you? One participant in our Thai Business Go Online program believed it could be. Before the Web site, she made a few thousand baht a month selling her handmade clothes.

One act of faith paid off enormously. Thanks to the Web, she now earns hundreds of thousands of baht a month as new customers find her around the country and even some from Thai fans overseas.

Similarly, ilovephathai.com was set up by housewives from U-Tong and has significantly increased their revenues by using online advertising. The Thai Business Go Online program has now been running for two 2 months and already 25,000 businesses have signed up for a new Web site.

And the Internet doesn't just help Thais reach out to other Thais. It also allows any Thai business to become a potential exporter. One of my favorite entrepreneurs at a recent Thai Business Go Online event shared her experience of going online to sell her essence of crocodile. She wasn't pretending that this traditional brew was going to be the next CocaCola. But the magic here is that across the globe, for any given product, there are thousands of people who really want it.

The problem was that they used to be hard to reach. Now with a few clicks you can find the guy looking for essence of crocodile in your own community or even connect with potential customers overseas seeking Thai folk remedies in Brazil or "crocodile medicine' in Germany or China.

Beyond money, there's also a matter of cultural heritage. A study recently showed that more that 80 percent of Thais don't know how many vowels Thai has and that of, all the people who made grammatical errors, teens had the biggest problems.

The Internet can help this. Thais may underestimate the importance of Thai language when they think about the Internet but for a country that is the 20th largest population in the world, there is only 1 percent of Thai language content on the world wide web, we think that's another missed opportunity and that's why at Google, we've invested heavily in making our products available in Thai.

We've also focused on translation services that allow a lot of the world's Web sites to be comprehensible to Thais and, even more importantly, make Thais' material readable to the world. We don't want Thais feeling like they have to speak English to get the best of the Internet. Instead, via Google GuRu, Blogger and programs like Thai Business, Go Online, we want Thais to go online and make the Web their own.

The more Thai people come online, the more Thai content will be waiting for them the next time they arrive. The more Thai content there is, the easier it gets for our translation engine to make Thai content accessible to tourists and academics and the world's information store available to Thais.

Just one concerted push is all we need: from politicians, from businesses, from educational institutions and from Thais.

However, let me add that the acts of faith made by consumers and businesses in Thailand need to be matched by the government. A nation's Internet can only go so fast as the network it has built for itself.

At Google, we know what a difference speed makes. Experience from our search engine tells us that a delay lasting no more than a fraction of a second can be enough for people to stop waiting for a Web site, click the back button and look elsewhere. We built Chrome to make life on the Web better by making it faster, as well as more secure. We find that across Asia people have embraced that philosophy. But a browser can only do so much.

The next step for Thailand is an investment in broadband. In 2010, 3 percent of households had access to broadband and in 2015 that number is forecast by the Digital Divide Institute to be 17 percent, far below the 30 percent that Asian countries with similar income levels to Thailand should have by then. The institute also estimated in 2010 that a concerted push to bring broadband to 70 percent of Thais would add 3.5 percent to GDP per year by 2015. Very few investments could pay out that well in just five years. But broadband's impact is big for the reasons I outlined above: every business is an Internet business, so every business benefits from a faster Internet. Imagine how many different kinds of businesses would gain if we could make Bangkok's traffic jams vanish in five years--those same businesses stand to gain even more from a faster Internet.

A lot of people may think this isn't the right time to call for broadband investment in Thailand when there are many other things that need urgent investment. I'm not saying that slow Internet speeds are Thailand's biggest problem, by any means. But everything suggests that expanding its embrace of the Internet, which Thais are increasingly accessing from across the country, is Thailand's biggest opportunity for its future. And that's as true for the tailor looking for new customers, as for the person who wants to know the best place to get something fixed in their neighborhood or for the entrepreneur who wants to explore opportunities abroad.

The original blog post, in Thai, can be found on the Google Thailand blog here

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