“We normally had around 15 to 20 weddings each year. Now though, we have at least 60 a year.”
It is good times for the Norwegian company Krabi Specialisten in Ao Nang in the Krabi province. Ingeborg Fallet Kristensen looks around the area. She is now 39 years old, and the last 14 years she has been living in Thailand. She started out as Hotel Manager at the Sheraton in Phuket in 1996, but in 2003 she started her own company in Ao Nang, a small coast city near Krabi town.
“We have survived the tsunami, SARS, the Bird Flu, when they closed down Suvarnabhumi, the Swine Flu, the economic meltdown, and the demonstrations this spring,” she says quite proudly.
Ingeborg sips to her cup of coffee. She likes the way everything seems to have turned out. Right now it is the low-season, so there is not too much going on, but she knows that she will have plenty to do when the high season kicks in.
“I have been forced to think positive during all the different crises. Of course we can feel the economic crisis, but I am more thinking about expanding than closing down,” she says.
Around her is what many Scandinavians would probably desribe as paradise. Beautiful landscape, a soothing atmosphere, and – most importantly – the heavenly beach with a dozen of small, beautiful islands in sight.
When cold Scandinavia ain’t right
Krabi Specialisten is a company that focuses on four essential elements, weddings, events like birthdays, team building seminares, and company events. She now owns three traditional long-tail boats called “Queen of Ao Nang” number one, two, and three. They are used for transportation when her clients want to expand the level of luxury to a small island outside the coast of Ao Nang or Phuket.
“It is wonderfuld to see the look on people’s faces when they arrive at a tiny, paradise island to go through with a small, casual wedding,” she says while pointing out that she gets loads of positive feedback from her arrangements.
“We have quite a few clients who come here because they have heard about us from friends somewhere. I have not had too much time to advertise and try to profile the company, so many of our clients come because of the good old mouth-to-mouth method,” Ingeborg says.
In 2008, the Scandinavian airline Star Tours made Krabi Specialisten official wedding planer.
“We went from around 20 weddings a year to 45 a year after Star Tour began to use us, and the number is still going up,” she says.
Ingeborg also has an office in Koh Lanta and one in Phuket, and she spends her time almost fifty-fifty in Ao Nang and Phuket when the high season is rolling .
“Everything is possible when we are represented more than just one beautiful place. And it makes the logistics much more easier when we already have people other places than here in Ao Nang.”
The Scandinavian challenge
Normally, Krabi Specialisten has 15 employees, and during the high season that number rises to 40. There is a need for dozens of people who can work on everything from being the captain on one of the boats to create the perfect sorroundings for a great event.
Ingeborg Kristensen recently hired two Scandinavian women besides the normal Thai staff to help keep the business running in her way, also when she can not be around. She goes to Norway a couple of months each year, and her long-term plan is to live in Ao Nang and Phuket during the high season and stay in Norway during the low season.
She has a Thai husband, and for Ingeborg it has been important to understand the Thai culture and the entire society to run her business well. She quite fastly learned to speak Thai because of the obvious need with her plans down heder.
“I would never have come this far if I could not speak Thai,” as she gently says.
But the language barrier is not the only difficulty when coming from the Scandinavian world to the one in Thailand.
“I have been fighting with a world dominated by men. And there are loads of challenges in that situation. Not so much in terms of starting up a business, which is tricky, but mostly in terms of the way people look at me,” Ingeborg states with a focus on especially her first years in Thailand.
“To be a ‘farang’ woman in Thailand is just another thing than being a normal woman in Norway, and it is based in the entire relationship between men and women here. When I came here, I quickly got a few male friends, but I could easily feel the weird and hateful looks from some of the Thai women, who did not know ‘our’ way of having a friendly relationship with a man,” she explains.
“But at least I did not feel like I had extra difficulties with starting up my own company because of my gender. But the ‘white farang’ will always have some – quite extreme – difficulties in all the procedures that lead to an eventual business.”
Ingeborg has fought with the fact, she says, that Thai’s often work very dependent on others and dependent on being pushed and controlled by their bosses. She has had to fight this state of mind from her workers and remove the initial hierarchy that normally characterizes the Thai work life.
“I have had to do a lot of restructuring so all the work will be done more efficiently. It is all about getting a Scandinavian mentality in to the Thai worker’s minds,” she says.
Time is flying by
When Ingeborg first came to Thailand, she was not aware that she would end up as an expat for now 14 years.
“Sometimes I sit and think about why I am here, like a feeling of why I ended up here. But I have not really thought about the fact that I have already been here for 14 years. I have had such a busy time, so I have never really thought about it,” she says although she knows that she would never be able to say a definitive goodbye to Norway.
“I can never say ‘bye-bye’ Norway. But then again, we are some Norwegians here, we work together, and my mother comes and visits me for a couple of months each year, and when you think about the fact that I go back to Norway each year, I still feel somewhat as a Norwegian here.”
The paradisiacal area
Ingeborg wants to show off the beach in Ao Nang from where her long-tail boats go to the small islands in sight.
“You just have to take a look around down here to know what I am talking about. It is absolutely beautiful, and it does not take a brilliant mind to figure out what kind of a beginning this is to – for instance – a wedding ceremony,” she says hoping that one day, the Krabi province will become a more attractive place for tourists.
“I have quite a hard time realizing what Phuket has that Ao Nang does not have. I hope that Krabi one day will become Southern Thailand’s new answer to Phuket in terms of tourists.”
If that happens, one of her big dreams for the company’s future might more easily come true.
“What I would really love, would be for Krabi Specialisten to have its own resort. I dream of having my clients coming here getting the perfect experience, and it would be amazing to have a resort as a supplement of all the other possibilities here,” she says.