Royal Consolate of Thailand in Italy
Interview to Consul General Mr. Alberto Virgilio
by Ivan De Stefano
The “land of smiles” married the “land of sunshine”. Partially due to a similarity of climate and commercial synergies, Thailand and Italy are like two sisters walking hand in hand; facing with an equally fierce spirit the issues which every nation finds on its path toward progress and social development. Since 2004 an Italian citizen, Alberto Virgilio, has been in charge of the Thai Consulate in Milan, a starting point for activities of the Thai government in our country. “It is important to point out – as the General Consul comments – that we are also present in Rome with the Royal Embassy of Thailand, Thai Tourism Authority, Agriculture Office and Thai Trade Center. Along with Milan we also have branches in Naples, Genova, Turin and Venice; therefore we have established a network which allows us to have a privileged relationship with the Italian government, and sustains a strong commercial and tourism-related relationship”.
“To provide support for Thai businesses which operate in the Italian territory, and providing suggestions and counselling to Italian businesses which want to invest in Thailand for a variety of reasons, wether it be tourism or business. Although we mainly deal with promotion, we try to seize opportunities offered by different fields and we try to dialogue with the Chambers of Commerce and other institutions such as Counties and Regions”.
Your role therefore is to mediate?
“We receive information which we then refer to the Thai business world, being aware of the fact that small
and medium-sized businesses would not be able to independently start an economical exchange with the nation I represent. Only large corporations, through the help of managers, have been able to obtain Thai capital. La Rinascente and A.C. Milan are tangible examples of investments of Thai assets, which has had a considerable impact while keeping the Italian management of the brand intact. EXPO represents another prestigious showcase, especially for the city of Milan. It is not a city renowned for its artistic heritage or tourism, still Milan has international importance. It is a reference point for investors; any foreigner who has visited EXPO has been impressed with the efficiency, precision and security of this event. Still I believe that, due to the speed of modern communication, in time the international exposure which is a prerogative of this event, will be lost. Thailand has understood this message and has showcased an established reality, registering over one million visitors by the end of August. This confirms that we are an ambitious country, a destination not only for tourists but also, in the past twenty years, for investors. It is one example of how Thailand has endured the financial crisis of Hong Kong.”.
Tourism has a significant impact in the economic assessment of this South-East Asian country, is this still the case?
“We have no rivals on the quality-price ratio. We are known as “the land of smiles”, with a pure welcoming spirit, warm, with great weather and convenient prices. For these qualities we register, among others, a considerable number of senior citizens which come to enjoy the beauty of nature, food and entertainment; having available a limited budget, which would be small for the Italian cost of living, it is more than sufficient in Thailand”.
Is there a flow of people in reverse?
“Sure, Thai people find in Italy a similar pace of life and communal dynamics. Moreover, in Thailand the social and economical fabric of small to medium businesses is highly developed, as it is in Italy; therefore it is extremely easy for them to establish themselves on our territory”.
Is agriculture one of the strongest points of the nation?
“The economy based on agriculture is incredibly strong. Bio-technologies, renewable energies are routes that Thailand has naturally followed”.
Is healthcare a weak link?
“Not at all, Thailand provides excellent healthcare, both public and private. Waiting times cannot be compared to the lengthy Italian procedures; for example the booking, execution and outcome of a CT scan is commonly a matter of a few hours. Moreover, Thailand has been a long-standing destination for medical tourism, not just for dental care”.
Is it a fast-developing economy?
“I would rather say that it is moving well. The melting pot of tradition and innovation is working extremely well. This constant pace of progress guarantees that values such as family, like the Italian model of the sixties, are not lost. It is also important to ban the stereotype of this nation as a destination for sexual tourism”.
Thailand is a country which has never experienced strong foreign influences because, unlike other South-East Asian countries, it has never been invaded by other states. What has this entailed?
“Cultural and political independence; but still Thailand bears a strong similarity to Italy, which has had Greek, Arab and Spanish influences. A different historical past, but strong relations, almost sprung from the same DNA”.
An Italian citizen as the Consul of Thailand, doest it feel strange?
“Where there is open mindedness there is no prejudice. It is obvious that relying on a person born in that area, who lives and operates in that environment, is able to work on the relevant territory more easily than someone who has to travel eleven thousand kilometres, needs time to discover a new reality and establish relationships; by the time these relationships are solidified they are probably ready to pack and move back home. Two countries as one. That’s all”.