Sweden’s new consul-general look forward to three years on Phuket

Sweden upgraded its representation to a general consulate on Phuket in early 2005, and as a new consul-general, Alf Karlsson, 61, came in September to stay for three years, the mission will at least not change before 2008. There is also talk of the consulate moving into Phuket town in 2006.
         At the same time the consulate keeps its honorary consul Mr. Wichit Na-Ranong, so with his experience and knowledge and adding on with the general consulate, the resources double.
         Around the same time as Alf Karlsson’s arrival, the consulate entered a new phase in post-tsunami efforts where the memorial services are the final. From being a mission totally dominated by the tsunami effort so far; the new consul-general will gradually be able to set aside more time on building up this mission.
         Consul General Karlsson’s nearest assignment before Thailand was Berlin, where he was chief of administration and consular affairs – his expert areas. 
         “I have spent a lot of my work on such tasks; earlier in Washington, Tokyo and New York. But I have also spent time on other things. So it has come to be quite a lot,” says Alf Karlsson modestly, who has spent many years as a diplomat. He started at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973 and has worked with everything from export support, to political reporting and “basically everything you can do on an embassy apart from multilateral business.”
         His Asian experience is from working at the embassy of Sweden in Japan for three years.
         The consul-general admits that the establishing of a general consulate is a consequence of the tsunami. “Yes, without that it probably would not have happened now.”
         Looking beyond the tragic tsunami, one wonders how it feels for Alf Karlsson to enter his duties in a place voted by Swedish travel magazine Allt om Resor’s readers as the world’s best charter destination?
         “It feels good, I look forward to this. I must say it’s sort of an unwritten page. We can partly see what the work will consist in, but we will partly also build this up from scratch,” says Alf Karlsson upon his arrival to the island. As he points out, the mission does not exactly have a hundred-year-old history.
         It is an attractive assignment and the consul is bringing his wife to the Swede’s favourite destination. But before this summer when Alf Karlsson came here for a week to prepare, he had never been to Thailand before. 
         “I am not a good charter traveller at all. When you have this kind of work, on assignment abroad, you rather travel home to Sweden on vacation instead.”
         On Phuket Alf Karlsson expects to have lots of contact with Swedes though.
         “There are many tourists here, facing various problems, even if they are not anywhere near as serious as the tsunami. But there is quite a lot of consular work with that.”
         “After 2005, we will enter a new phase with four main tasks,” says the consul-general, mentioning the continuing identification work and the support to relatives as long as they will be required, as two of those tasks. “The third part is consular work and service towards tourists and the Swedish colony here and the fourth is the Sweden promotion; it can contain various things to support the connections between Sweden and this part of Thailand.”
         ”I know there are some hospitality tourism, most certainly with development potential, due to the hospitals’ high standard and with this climate and the quality service. It will be interesting to see what can follow in the tracks of this medical tourism. This business can develop into various threads, not only bringing patients here for operations, but in the medicine technical sector it could develop,” says the consul-general when asked what he knows about Phuket.
         When meeting him in September he as already learned that there are quite a few Swede’s, nor only persons retired from work, actively doing business on the island.
         There is a strong trend that more and more Swedes are coming to settle down here and the Swedish embassy in Bangkok has mentioned the need for networks among the increasing number of Swedes moving here. Could this directly and indirectly lead to new collaborations and business where the consulate and foreign ministry could play a role?
         “Not always, we should not think that the consulate must be involved. Most business around the world happens without our involvement. I think there can be occasions when we could play a role.
          Especially in finding partners in Sweden for companies here, and vice versa. Also perhaps, we should be able to play a part in the networks that also I expect will come in Phuket between some of the Swedes here,” says Alf Karlsson who anticipates learning quite a lot about who are here and keep his eyes and ears open.
         “You must be open for opportunities.”

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