Almost anywhere I have gone in Thailand over the past few months, from the green hills of Mae Sai, to the swamps of the South, new shopping malls have been erected since my last visit. I can’t imagine that any of them are losing money.
I have recently read a number of articles, particularly in local, Thai-language publications, that are critical of the methods of the major international retailers who are trying to corner the market in every province in the country.
Today, there is news that an organised, nation-wide initiative has been created to push for tighter retail controls. A group opposing the Lotuses, Makro and Big Cs of the world has been formed.
Having worked in many of the areas of Southeast Asia where the convenience, economy and service of a Lotus or Big C are but a local pipe-dream, I wonder whose interests such anti-mall campaigning really serves. Thais, and Burmese, and Lao, and others, love big supermarkets, and malls, when they can afford to shop in them.
In fact, they love them even when they can’t afford to shop in them!
These foreign and locally-owned shopping centres are new sites of economic, social and political significance. It is no coincidence that Thaksin regularly attends events at shopping centres. Hankering after a bygone era of crowded alleyways and stifling street-stalls is part of an anti-prosperity agenda. People who are making more money often want the security, accessibility and efficiency of big malls. They vote with their wallets.
In this case, who will be foolhardy enough to stand in the people‘s way?