Key industry leaders got together at the Bangkok Post International Forum Asia to discuss life after the COVID-19 crisis and challenges in 2021. The event was held at World Ballroom, Centara Grand at CentralWorld. Here is what they had to say:
Michael MacDonald – Chief digital officer at Huawei Southeast Asia
Many of the digital habits which people have learned from COVID-19 will not go away once the crisis is over, he said.
“What we learned from the digital world is once users get used to ways of dealing with online services, they rarely go back.
“Don’t expect a return to the ways we did things before and people are going to continue to engage with each other using these new online services like TikTok and Zoom,” Mr MacDonald said.
He said trends like a reliance on at-home broadband, the transition to digital payments, and communicating through online channels will likely continue well after the pandemic ends.
“We are hoping in 2021, we will see governments and operators come up with plans to alleviate initial investments to bring these ideas forward,” Mr MacDonald said.
Aloke Lohia – Group chief executive of Indorama Ventures
Some of the best years for business are following a crisis, said Mr Lohia.
“Both 2009 and 2010 were remarkable years for industries following the 2008 financial crisis, partly driven by government stimulus spending,” he said. “I think we can see a similar snap back in the economy in the second half of 2021.”
IVL’s total sales volume increased by 4% this year compared to 2019 due to the surge in demand for fast-moving consumer goods and non-durable plastics being used for food delivery and e-commerce, which have done very well during the pandemic. However, overall profits were down, due to a variety of factors related to the pandemic.
“Once the anxiety was over, we managed the best ways we could and we came out stronger.”
Harald Link – Chairman of B.Grimm Group
Moving forward, governments and businesses should focus on stopping future pandemics to avoid economic and environmental devastation, said Mr Link.
To do this, he urged the Ministry of Natural Resources to stop the wildlife trade, seen as the cause of COVID-19 or the ongoing African Horse Sickness and previous epidemics like Sars and Ebola.
“This pandemic was not that bad, as less than 3% of people died, compared to African horse sickness that killed 90% of horses infected,” Mr Link said. “We have to protect ourselves against future pandemics by stopping the wildlife trade.”
He also urges the government to cut red tape to allow more people to enter the country while still maintaining safety regulations.
“Diabetes and motorcycle accidents are huge causes of death in Thailand, but the government does not regulate it to the same extreme level like with COVID-19,” he said. “I think Thailand can have the cake and eat it too, keep people safe, while still letting people into the country.”
Suphajee Suthumpun – Group chief executive of Dusit Thani Plc
Hospitality businesses are currently emerging from a “K-shaped” recovery in the hospitality sector, said Ms Suthumpun.
Some business owners will soar while others are likely to take an even harder beating. “It depends on how operators can adjust and adapt to cope with the changes and grow very well after that,” said Ms Suthumpun.
She said the industry heavily relies on international arrivals. Two-thirds of the country’s three-trillion-baht tourism revenue came from 39.8 million foreign tourists in 2019 which amounts to 12% of GDP.
Now, the international tourism market is nearly gone. Tourist arrivals are forecast to plunge to 6.7 million people as the country was able to do business in welcoming visitors only the first two months of this year before the pandemic struck. Domestic travel is also revised down to 75 million trips. The impacts of COVID-19 are longer lasting than those of similar, high-impact diseases.
Ms Suthumpun said the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity brought on by COVID-19 have spurred hospitality business operators into reviewing their business plans to reflect the tremendous changes they need to adapt to in future.
Dusit is balancing its hotel portfolio, diversifying business segments and expanding both its business footprint and spectrum of services.
The company has designed a financial model to survive and stay resilient. She added a new model of business organisation is in order, one that is lean and able to match skillset and mindsets with the right people.
Dusit also focuses on investment in information technology to run the company to meet future demands and enhance customer experiences. She also said the pandemic also made travellers focus on health and wellness which raises a promising possibility of partnerships between hospitality businesses and hospitals, for example.
Dr Boon Vanasin – Chairman of Thonburi Healthcare Group Plc (THG)
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) of hospital businesses worldwide and in Thailand will continue post-pandemic so the industry can cut costs and stay afloat, said Dr Vanasin.
The pandemic has hit many small and medium-sized hospitals in their pocket, right where it hurts the most. The lifeline is in M&A.
Some hospitals branched out into healthcare businesses and invested in nursing homes to serve an ageing society. Many hospitals seek business partners to diversify their businesses.
They want to join hotel and tourism firms which could help all of them survive, he said. Dr Vanasin said the government’s policy to promote world-class medical healthcare and wellness services is a boon to the hospital business as well. “It will benefit the country for many years,” he said.
The THG focuses on healthcare and wellness businesses as the ageing society is fast approaching.
“The hospital in the future will also have nursing homes,” he said, adding the THG runs the Jin Wellbeing County, which is a retirement home project in Pathum Thani.
THG expects the government will allow foreigners to travel to Thailand as soon as possible. It has a long list of people waiting to travel to Thailand for medical treatment. They include 5,000 from China.
Healthcare businesses and the hospital are embracing changes as they adjust to the new normal ushered in by the pandemic.
Hospitals will move into a crucial phase of adapting to COVID-19 imposed changes as they look to introduce technology and innovations to their businesses for sustainable operation and growth.
Among the tangible changes are virtual health, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), electronic implants, genomic analysis, 3D printing, brain-computer interface and the next generation of Siri and Alexas,” he said.
THG plans to deliver advanced care and services to customers, he added.