SuChart Leelayouthyotin, President of the Pacific Rim Termite Research Group and business owner, reviews the last half decade of termite management in Thailand.
In the summer of 1971, half a century ago in Thailand, I entered the pest control industry as a fresh graduate. I was hired by the biggest pest control operator, Borneo Pest Control, the local agent for Thomas Gowan, the famous arsenic trioxide (AS2O3) Termite Control Powder.
Well during those very early years of Thai pest control, most people just helped themselves, grabbing anything they could to tackle their pest problem, mostly products borrowed from the agricultural sector, recommended through hearsay, or word of mouth. There were no rules or regulations of any kind back then.
It was 1980 when the Food and Drug Administration of Thailand (Thai-FDA) introduced the mandatory requirement that all pest control companies in Thailand be registered. This opened a new chapter of modern pest control in Thailand. In 2005, the Thai-FDA under the Ministry of Public Health announced the Pest Control Operator Licence System, requiring every pest control company to have at least one licensed operator. The intended operator must attend a five-day course and pass the examination, then he/she will be qualified for a five-year pest control operator licence (subject to renewal every five years).
As the Thai pest control industry started to grow, we surfaced from our previous ‘trial and error’ era to this new modern era of pest control. The licence system provides more knowledge and information to the pest control operators throughout the country, enabling better and safer pest control operation, and safer standards for the technicians, customers and the environment. Over the last 50 years, while there have been few changes to general pest control (just better equipment, safer chemicals, and better application methods) the termite control service sector has gone through a lot of major changes.
In the early days, before 1965, it was very much a case of Chaos Theory; there were no rules or regulations. In 1965, the first termite-specific product was introduced when Thomas Gowan, under a veil of secrecy, introduced arsenic powder for termite control. It wasn’t until 12 years later that King Service Center introduced the next big development in termite control with chlordane for soil treatments. In 1982 Tom Pest Control launched the concept of a pipe installation under concrete slabs – the early reticulation systems.
Most buildings in Thailand are built on a concrete slab, so the use of reticulation systems to allow for re-treatment is (one of) the best ways to provide lasting protection. Although most architects will recommend reticulation systems, they are not always installed, as termite protection is not specified in the building regulations. Instead the ground will simply be sprayed with one of a number of termiticides – bifenthrin, fipronil, imidacloprid or chlorfenapyr. Pre-construction treatments are normally provided by the construction company rather than by a pest control company and account for around 20% of the termite control market.
With concrete slab construction common, post-construction treatments will often include drill and rodding techniques to spray liquid or foam treatments under the concrete slab, using the standard range of termiticides. Infestations above ground will be treated with dusts – fipronil and arsenic (yes, though it’s illegal it is still in use!) as well as a range of baiting products.
Baiting systems and insect growth regulators for termite control were introduced to Thailand back in 1985 with the arrival of Sentricon. Sentricon has now been joined by Exterra, Xterm and a range of generics. Most pest managers prefer to use above-ground bait stations for solving termite problems inside buildings, with exterior, in-ground bait stations used much less frequently.
Consumers are definitely becoming more knowledgeable, in particular being aware that alate swarms are the new kings and queens looking to start a new colony. However, almost all treatments are reactive rather than preventative. Customers are looking for effective termite control, but like most countries the importance of safety is of increasing importance. Low odour is seen as a sign of increased safety. Customers are very focused on a low price for termite treatments but demand a good service and a rapid response. Following a treatment, pest control companies will often provide a three-year warranty on liquid chemical treatments and a one-year warranty on bait treatments. Termite inspections are only generally carried out during this warranty period.
The innovative solutions for termite management continue to arrive. In 2020, a foam treatment specially designed for Southeast Asian properties was introduced to the market. Developed by King Service Center, KingFoam combines a liquid termiticide – typically chlorfenapyr from BASF or imidacloprid from Bayer – with a strong surfactant foaming concentrate. The result is a faster, more efficient treatment. King Service Center developed both the application hardware and tracking software, offering customers a complete treatment solution.
Single-family housing is typically constructed using a prefabricated concrete slab placed over a ground beam, creating an inaccessible raised crawlspace underneath the building – an ideal nesting place and concealed access point for termites. Achieving thorough coverage with a spray application of liquid termiticide is very difficult. KingFoam is a large-volume termiticidal foam that spreads in all directions to fill the three-dimensional void. Not only does this deliver complete coverage, it requires fewer holes to be drilled and patched.
All KingFoam operations are managed by intelligent equipment that sees the technician taking the role of supervisor rather than applicator. The KiiS (Keeptracking Intelligent Injection System) hardware controls the whole operation, calculating the amount of active ingredient and amount of diluted solution, then opening and closing the automatic flow control valve once the designated volume is reached. Using the specially developed mobile phone app, both the supervisor and customer can follow and monitor the work progress in real time. Once completed, usually in 3-4 hours, a report is generated and uploaded to the cloud-based server.
The way I see it, it is kind of a hybrid operation, employing the human as a technical supervisor and micro-processor, controlling the mechanical gears, and recording the operation, while the hardware does the work. After the three-year warranty expires, any retreatment is made much easier as all previously recorded data is easily accessible.
Through the long journey of history, it has been proven time and time again, that the Thai pest control industry is heading upward, qualitatively and quantitatively. Despite the many challenges and obstacles along the way, our service sector is still progressing. Reports by GFK Research in 2010 and 2020 indicate significant growth (150%) in the number of pest control businesses and employees within the pest control industry in Thailand with the number of unlicensed businesses decreasing to less than 25%.
Newbies are entering our industry introducing new inventions, while ‘oldies’ are offering upgrades and improvements to the use of chemicals, baits, equipment, and application methods. AI technology will soon be added into the mix, to facilitate better and more specific targeted pest management applications.
The ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic is having a very big impact on our industry. Yet soon enough, once things have subsided, we will enter the recovery cycle. After half a century of working in pest control in Thailand, the crystal ball tells me that the post-Covid-19 re-emergence of pest and termite control services will be huge.
President of the Pacific Rim Termite Research Group (PRTRG) and Chairman of King Service Center Ltd, Thailand