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Business

Japanese firms taking steps to shield themselves from Thai chaos

Far from business as usual in the streets of this Bangkok district, where protesters have set up blockades.

TOKYO -- As anti-government demonstrators continue to wreak havoc on Bangkok's tourism industry, Japanese corporations there are basically going on with business as usual while putting contingency plans in place.

     Protesters have occupied seven major intersections in the city since Jan. 13, severely limiting the number of vehicles going through. As a result, customer traffic at the CentralWorld shopping mall was down about 70% from usual on Saturday, according to a store clerk.

     Foreign visitors to Thailand grew 20% to 26.74 million people in 2013, marking a record for a fourth straight year. But the number of visitors during the January-March quarter of this year is expected to plunge 30-40%, according to the nation's tourism agency. The tourism industry is believed to have suffered 10 billion baht ($303 million) in losses so far, and the figure is certain to grow.

     But areas of Bangkok where there are no demonstrators have been calm, and factory districts in the suburbs have also been unaffected. Japanese companies with locations in Bangkok are trying to figure out how to keep their businesses operating while taking steps to deal with risks.

     Honda has instructed personnel in Bangkok to limit their work day to eight hours, and to seek approval from superiors when working overtime. The company believes that risks grow during the early-morning and late-night hours.

     Toyota's local unit relocated about 150 sales personnel from its offices in central Bangkok to its main factory outside the city on Jan. 13, but ended up sending them back because their regular commute was largely unaffected. But it is maintaining leases for apartments rented near the factory.

     Kawasaki Kisen's local unit is continuing with normal operations at its headquarters, which are located in an area occupied by protesters, but the firm secured two offices at suburban warehouses and another site that can be used in case of emergencies. Sumitomo Mitsui Banking also set up an emergency office in the suburbs.

     Some companies are turning the chaos into a business opportunity. Virtual mall operator Rakuten's local unit began making deliveries using motorcycles on Friday, offering same-day delivery for an additional fee. The head of the company said this is a good opportunity to show the advantages of online shopping: customers can shop under any circumstances. Revenue for the October-December period surged 71% on the year.

     Bangkok's elevated rail system is also benefiting from an increase in business users. Ever since the blockade, daily ridership has grown about 10% to roughly 700,000 people, according to the operator of the SkyTrain.

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