Approval from the Ministry of Public Health comes conditional on strict zoning, with the proposal targeted at a select number of nightlife establishments linked with the foreign tourist industry. Tighter screening and security are also advised.

The Ministry of Public Health is the latest government ministry or agency to give the green light to a 4am nightlife closing time in tourist hotspots aimed to be introduced sometime in December ahead of end-of-year celebrations, including Christmas and the New Year. At the same time, the plan is being vigorously opposed by anti-alcohol groups, including the Stop Drink Network, which is calling for the government to establish a ฿5 to ฿10 billion compensation fund for families impacted by alcohol in Thailand even if the proposal, which it argues is not supported by the public, goes ahead.

One of the top objectors to the new plan for 4 am closing hours in zoned tourist hotspots, approved in recent days by Minister of Public Health Cholnan Srikaew, is the Head of Stop Drinking Now, Mr Wissanu Srithawong (centre), who has called on the government to establish a fund a ฿5-฿10 billion fund, paid for by the wider sector, to compensate those who have suffered from alcohol consumption.

An anti-alcohol campaign organiser has called on the government to postpone its planned measures to allow for 4 am closing hours within tourist hotspots over the coming High Season.

The plan is to have new closing hours operational in specific zones designated in tourist hotspots frequented by foreign tourists for December or sometime before the Christmas and New Year celebrations begin.

Minister gives green light based on a laser-focused provision backed by tighter screening and security against drugs to boost the foreign tourism sector

On Saturday last, the Minister of Public Health, Mr Cholnan Srikaew, gave the proposal the green light from his ministry based on three essential requirements, namely that the areas where the late opening hours would be allowed would be carefully zoned, that the venues would be limited to those catering for tourists and that there were preventative measures against abuse in place.

These include security and screening for young people, especially concerning the possible promotion and distribution of illicit narcotics.

The proposal being progressed is the brainchild of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

It has been enthusiastically received by the country’s foreign tourism industry and entertainment operators in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin and Ko Samui.

Strong opposition from anti-alcohol lobby, including the Stop Drink Network, which is calling for a compensation fund paid for by the wider industry

The new late opening hours proposal is being supported by both the Ministry of the Interior and the Royal Thai Police, who are working in tandem with senior Tourism officials.

Opposition to the measure, however, remains vocal and strenuous with Mr Wissanu Srithawong, the manager of an organisation called Stop Drink Network, which is linked to the Office of the Network of Alcohol Abstinence organisation based in the Bueng Kum district of Bangkok, coming to the fore.

Mr Wissanu has called for the government to delay the new measure, which he claims does not have public support and even if the government insists on pursuing the change based on economic imperative, Mr Wissanu is calling for new initiatives to be taken linked with the alcohol industry, particularly the creation of a substantial fund to pay compensation to victims of the substance. 

The anti-alcohol campaigner has described such an approach as a proactive one and warns that the plan being pushed through was something that would only benefit a limited number of Thai people while having potentially adverse effects or harm on larger numbers.

Public opinion on the 4 am closing hours plan is evenly divided, with a slight majority against the proposal to boost the nightlife trade for tourism

Mr Wissanu claimed that recent public opinion polls show the public is against the move. He suggested that 70% of the population had never visited such establishments. 

In comparison, 4.35% of ultra-traditional Thais believe that all nightlife should be shuttered permanently in the kingdom, according to an authoritative national opinion survey. 

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The recent National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll showed that the public was split evenly between those who support the proposal and those who oppose it, with a slight margin for the latter. 

41.22% of people thought the 4 am closing hours should be given the green light provided they were extended to all areas of Thailand.

A slightly higher 41.76% believed the existing closing hours of 2 am were already suitable and not in need of change.

A 2015 study of Thai adults conducted by BMC Public Health and published in the National Library of Medicine showed that 79% of Thai women were either teetotalers or limited their consumption of alcohol to minimal occasions.

The exact figure for Thai men was only 33%.

Strong campaigner against the excesses of the Entertainment Industry calls for ฿5-฿10 billion fund to compensate those who have suffered from alcohol

Mr Wissanu has a history of campaigning for a safety-first approach to entertainment and celebrations in Thailand, such as calling for more robust, water-resistant face masks in April 2022 during Songkran celebrations amid the Covid pandemic.

At the time, Mr Wissanu called for an emphasis on traditional activities rather than entertainment and frolics.

‘If society focuses on tradition and culture, things will become valuable and meaningful,’ he declared. 

This week, Mr Wissanu also claimed that 70% of the Thai public are not regular drinkers.

He called for the government to establish a compensation fund with an initial amount of between ฿5-10 billion to cover the damage suffered by drinkers linked with the wider alcohol industry, including those who require professional help to quit drinking.

‘Healthcare agencies are still debating who should pay for medication to help treat alcohol abuse. It is estimated at ฿100,000 per head,’ Mr Wissanu observed. ‘The ฿5-฿10 billion baht fund would be a good start because drinking doesn’t only cause injuries and deaths but also financial problems and family issues.’

He suggested that entertainment venues and alcohol producers should all be held responsible for the damage brought on society by such activities. 

Nightlife and Entertainment sector integral to the country’s appeal to Western Tourists, according to industry surveys. Tourists seek fun and relaxation

The Thai government and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports have begun to acknowledge the importance of the entertainment industry and the country’s nightlife in attracting foreign tourism, shown in the last four years as critical to the its ailing economy.

Anutin: crackdown on illegality extends to the nightlife sector; no more graft or pay-to-play
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In May 2022, a survey conducted by Visa Global suggested that 63% of Western tourists who visit Thailand come seeking relaxation and a getaway from modern life.

The respondents specifically emphasised the country’s massage parlour industry, hospitality sectors, restaurants and the kingdom’s cultural attractions. 

Fear that end-of-year foreign tourism arrivals tally may disappoint with some weakness seen in October

Similarly, a Thai Examiner survey in 2021, when the government moved to close the nightlife industry, showed that over 96% of foreign tourists in an online survey with a valid sample disagreed with the closure of entertainment venues at the time and felt it would damage the country’s tourism prospects.

48% of those surveyed in the 2022 Visa Global poll said that they saw Thailand as a destination for relaxation and activities to help them reduce stress, while, additionally, a further 25% identified relaxation and adventure activities in the kingdom. 

The new government of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is anxious to pursue all avenues to boost the foreign tourism industry in the last few months of 2023, with arrival figures for October showing signs of a slowdown, leading Thai economic planners now to only forecast 27 to 28 million visitors for the year as opposed to earlier indications of 30 million.

Exports are already on target to contract by 1% this year, while factory output in the industrial sector has hit historically low levels.

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