Thai businesses have urged the government to lift restrictions on alcohol sales as the country reopens its doors to tourists, warning that the measures are destroying its famous nightlife and risk deterring visitors.
Thailand plans to reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from 45 countries on November 1, after 18 months of restrictions that have devastated its tourism industry. Just weeks before the reopening, many bars, clubs and restaurants are closed or struggling to survive.
The government has banned the sale of alcohol in restaurants and closed bars, to deter people from going out after an increase in Covid cases in April, which was linked to groupings in nightclubs. Nightlife venues are always closed, while restaurant rules vary by region.
The rules have caused “catastrophic damage” to the nightlife industry, said Niks Anuman-Rajadhon, owner of Teens of Thailand, a bar in the capital’s Chinatown.
He has sought new ways to generate income, including opening a cafe and selling mocktails made from kratom, a leaf of the coffee family that acts as a stimulant and was recently decriminalized in Thailand. Profits fell dramatically again, he said. “We manage about 15% of what we got before Covid… There is almost nothing in compensation.
“It’s sad to see what’s going on in the world and [to compare this with] what’s going on in Thailand, ”he said, adding that Thailand’s alcohol policy was unusually strict. “We don’t feel like we’re in the same world.
Some restaurants and bars flout the restrictions and resort to discreet alcohol service disguised as soft drinks.
A curfew will be lifted in areas such as Bangkok at the end of the month, while Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said selling alcohol in restaurants and opening entertainment venues will be considered. by December 1.
Nightlife businesses say they need clarity and a faster rule change, so venues and bars have time to recruit staff and prepare for a return to business.
Taopiphop Limjittakorn, MP for the opposition Move Forward party, who called for a loosening of alcohol restrictions, said he feared the first wave of tourists would be surprised to see many nightlife spots closed. “It will not be a successful campaign to reopen the country at all. It will hurt our reputation even more, ”he said.
Helping businesses reopen safely should be a priority, he said. “Let’s say, ‘OK, maybe we [can] have a social distance for the bars and maybe limit people in the bars so that it is not too crowded, ”he said.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, worries that restrictions on alcohol sales will put tourists off. “People come here for entertainment or just to relax, and [alcohol] is part of many cultures, especially in Europe, ”said Marisa. Allowing consumption in hotels could be a starting point, she said.
Companies don’t expect large numbers of visitors to arrive in November, she said, but she hopes arrivals will resume once airlines’ capacity is increased and rules reopen. companies will be clearer. “It gives hope. We are finally seeing this light at the end of the tunnel, ”she said.
Thailand welcomed as many as 40 million international visitors a year before the pandemic, with the tourism industry contributing up to 20% of GDP. Last year, when travel came to a screeching halt, the country lost around $ 50 billion (£ 36 billion) in tourism revenue.
About 50% of hotels were closed during the pandemic, according to the Thai Hotels Association, with businesses in areas heavily dependent on international tourism, such as Phuket, Chaing Mai and Pattaya, being the hardest hit. “Whether these hotels come back or not is debatable,” said Marisa.
According to the Chiang Mai Restaurant and Bistro Association, half of its members have closed. Companies have been unable to sell alcohol in the past two months, after an increase in Covid cases.
To travel to Thailand from November 1, tourists will need to be fully vaccinated, test negative for Covid before and after arrival, and spend their first night in a hotel that meets government requirements. They will also need to have Covid insurance coverage of at least $ 50,000.
Just under 40% of the Thai population is fully vaccinated. Cases fell after a peak in August, with fewer than 10,000 infections recorded per day over the past week.