[BANGKOK] Thai shopping mall developers plan to invest more than 103 billion baht (S$4.03 billion) over the next three years to expand and open new stores as part of a drive to promote Thailand as a regional shopping hub, a private body said on Tuesday.
Plans to integrate Southeast Asia into a single market by 2015, as set out by the ASEAN Economic Community, will draw more foreign tourists to Thailand, Wallaya Chirathivat, president of Thai Shopping Center Association, told a news conference.
By 2017, the 10-member shopping mall group of developers will have a combined shopping area of more than 14 million square metres, versus 12 million square metres now, said Ms Wallaya, also senior executive of Central Pattana Pcl, Thailand's largest shopping mall developer.
The group represents 67 per cent of Thailand's total market, which is expected to have 21 million square metres of shopping area by 2017 from 18 million now, she said.
Other members include MBK Pcl, Siam Future Development Pcl, The Mall Group, Platinum Group and Siam Piwat Group.
The retailers aims to tap foreign tourists especially from China, Vietnam and Russia, and encourage them to spend 10 per cent more than a year earlier, Ms Wallaya said.
Last year, tourism generated revenue of 1.6 trillion baht, or 12 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. The Thai government expects revenue from tourism to reach 2.5 trillion baht in 2017.
Tourism has been the one bright spot for Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, which has yet to regain momentum after more than a year of military rule.
Thai consumer confidence fell to a 15-month low as a deadly bomb blast in Bangkok dealt a blow to economic recovery. Ms Wallaya said she expected consumers' purchasing power to improve in the last quarter, adding there were signs foreign tourist numbers were increasing.
To boost Thailand's competitiveness against Singapore and Hong Kong, the group plans to propose to the government to reduce import tax on luxury items and promote Thai brand products, she said.