The Thailand Restaurant Association (TRA) warns that foreign food chains are posing a greater threat to Thai restaurant operators amid government indifference and failure to promote the local industry.
President Taniwan Koonmongkon said foreign restaurants are mushrooming in Thailand, especially ones offering Korean and Japanese cuisine and Western fast food.
And their expansion is poised to accelerate further, given the coming liberalisation of the service industry as well as free trade agreements with several countries, she said.
About 300,000 Thai food restaurants nationwide employ as many as 3 million workers. The industry generated 300 billion baht in revenue last year, with 20% growth expected this year.
However, with proper government support Thai food restaurants could generate much more revenue for the country, said Ms Taniwan.
She said the number of Japanese food outlets opening in Thailand mushroomed in the wake of the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA), with overwhelming support from the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro).
Foreign Trade Department figures show that the number of Japanese restaurants doubled to 660 after the JTEPA was signed in 2007.
Japanese food chains in Thailand now rank fifth, after the US, China, South Korea and Taiwan.
Ms Taniwan wants the new government to formulate a long-term proactive plan for the industry, both domestically and abroad.
Challenges to domestic Thai food shops include quality standards and a lack of cooperation among related government agencies, she said. The food industry touches on aspects of the Agriculture, Commerce, Industry, Public Health, Labour and Interior ministries.
Ms Taniwan also suggests a long-term strategic plan to promote authentic Thai food restaurants internationally.
Such a move should be coordinated among relevant agencies but particularly the Commerce and Tourism and Sports ministries.
The Foreign Trade Department has allocated 8 million baht to create 40 Thai food shop prototypes abroad, and the TRA wants that number increased to 120 shops over the next 12 months.
The department is promoting the prototypes in Japan in cooperation with Jetro to match Thai investors with local investors in opening about 30 shops in main Japanese cities.
Surasak Riangkrul, a deputy director-general of the department, said Thai entrepreneurs themselves must upgrade themselves and develop their potential better, as an open market will definitely lead to more foreign food restaurants.
Tourist areas in particular will act as magnets for foreign hotels and Western fast-food outlets.
Source: The Nation