The government's plan to extend the opening hours of nightspots nationwide is welcome. If implemented, the move will be a tonic that revitalises the country's tourism sector. Downstream operators in tourism, such as taxi drivers, transporters and food vendors, will also benefit from the extension, creating benefits for the wider economy.
The initiative is a brainchild of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, and will be carried out by Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. Typically, entertainment venues such as bars are allowed to open until 2am. This could be extended to 4am under the change.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) forecasts the tourism industry this year will make 80% of the amount posted in 2019.
Thailand’s nightlife economy has always been vital for the tourism sector, generating substantial revenue and contributing significantly to the country’s GDP.
This revival has prompted bar owners, river cruise operators and stargazing tour businesses with nighttime tourists to seek support from state authorities so their businesses can be strengthened.
However, extending operation hours is not enough. At the same time, the government must say how it aims to manage regulations that ban the trade and consumption of alcohol during certain hours and certain religious days.
These restrictions have done little, if anything, to curb the rise of alcohol consumption among Thais.
Yet the government must be strategic in this matter; it cannot just simply extend operation hours or remove alcohol sale restrictions nationwide.
The longer opening hours must not be a uniform policy applied nationwide. The policy must be allowed mainly for entertainment venues in tourism destinations.
The government must be ready to deal with the impact instead of just dreaming of how to boost income from tourism activities.
Under-age drinking at nightclubs, noise pollution, drunk driving, accidents, drugs and other crimes are genuine concerns that cannot be ignored. Incidents could increase under this change unless places are properly monitored.
Police resources must be mobilised to monitor entertainment areas. By limiting the extension to specific tourism destinations, the authorities can better monitor and manage issues, ensuring the safety and well-being of tourists and locals.
Extending operation hours can also reduce corruption involving bar operators paying kickbacks to the police so venues can open late.
The government should seize this opportunity and use it to improve safety and compliance at entertainment venues, including bars. There have been fatal accidents at these venues where operators chose to ignore fire safety codes. In the past, local officials did not have the manpower and time to inspect these venues.
If the new policy permits only entertainment venues in specific areas to open late, national and provincial level officials can mobilise resources to ensure safety rule compliance.
That said, letting tourists enjoy longer happy hours is not enough. The government must make entertainment venues safer to enter.
The Srettha government is making the right move in trying to show that only realistic social controls will benefit businesses and local communities. It is hoped its implementation will be fair and efficient.