Phuket pilot project to let bars remain open on walking street till 4am, says tourism minister
Approval will be sought soon from the Cabinet for a pilot project to allow bars on a Phuket walking street to remain open until 4am, Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said on Thursday.
In his interview to Than Setthakij, Phiphat said his ministry planned to test the 4am bar closing hours at several tourist destinations, including Koh Samui, Khao San Road, and Ao Nang, but the pilot project would start at the Bang La walking street on Patong Beach in Phuket.
Phiphat explained that the ministry has to first organise public hearings to listen to views of local people before it could test the project and the public hearing at Patong has been done with overwhelming support from local people.
Other tourist spots where the Tourism and Sports Ministry would test the 4am closing hours for nightlife entertainment venues are:
Bangkok: Khao San Road and Patpong Road
Patthaya: Walking Street near Bali Hai Pier
Krabi: Ao Nang
Surat Thani: Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan
Phang Nga: Khao Lak.
Phiphat said he would like to start a pilot project in Pattaya as well to promote tourism in the eastern region, but the ministry needed more time for public hearings.
The ministry said the extension of bars’ closing time from 1am to 4am would be a key factor to encourage foreign tourists to spend more in the kingdom.
Phiphat said recent research by three universities – National Institute of Development Administration, Suan Sunantha University and Rajabhat Phuket University – pointed out that 25 per cent of foreign tourists would visit nightlife entertainment venues after midnight and this group would spend 44 per cent more in these places.
Phiphat said during the Covid restriction period, foreign tourists on average spent 61,000 baht each because they had to pay for expensive RT-PCR tests and other medical costs. After the tests were waived, foreign tourists spent on average 40,000 to 50,000 baht each.
“If we extend bar closing hours to 4am, foreign tourists would spend 44 per cent more at the bars,” Phiphat said.
Phiphat said operators of nightlife places in Chiang Mai also called on the ministry to extend their closing hours so he has assigned officials to define a special zone and conduct public hearings on the issue.
Phiphat said bars in certain tourist destinations were already violating closing hours and the project would make it legal for the bars to operate. For example, he said, bars on Koh Pha Ngan stay open later than 1am, especially when tourists celebrate the famed Full Moon Party there.
He said he would consult Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda within this month before asking the Cabinet to approve the Patong pilot project.
Supakorn Pojamarnsirikul, a former director of Suan Sunantha University’s centre for promoting startups and business development, said the centre had studied before the Covid pandemic that extension of bar hours to 4am would increase incomes for SMEs in the entertainment business, including local people.
Supakorn said foreign tourists often had dinner before they would reach the Bang La walking street at 11pm and they would spend about 70 million baht per night from 1am to 4am on average daily. Although the bars legally close at 1am, many remain open for tourists until 4am and the highest portion of income for bars came from 3am to 4am, he said.
Supakorn said if the bars are allowed to remain open legally until 4am, foreign tourists would spend 25 billion baht more a year at the Bang La walking street alone.
Thanakorn Kupajit, an adviser to the Thai Alcohol Beverage Business Association, said the 4am closing hours of bars at tourist destinations would greatly benefit concerned businesses.
He said if the government delays its decision, the country would lose an opportunity to earn more income because the high tourism season is approaching.
Earlier, academics voiced opposition to the extension of bar hours, saying it would do more harm to the country than good.
In August, Centre for Alcohol Studies (CAS) deputy manager Surasak Chaiyasong said closing hours later than 1am would promote more drinking that would lead to several social problems, including physical assault, drunk-driving, road accidents and other crimes.