Night venues set for mass protest

PHUKET: Less than one week before the official start of the high season for tourism on November 1, nighttime entertainment venue operators appear set to move forward with their planned work stoppage to protest the government’s early closing times.

More than 200 bar owners, staff and others affected by the new regulations gathered at the Crocodile Pub on Soi Bangla last night to prepare for the shut-down, which has been widely publicized through leaflets produced and distributed by the the Patong Entertainment Business Association (PEBA).

Organizers said a peaceful, alcohol-free rally will start at 2 pm tomorrow with protesters converging on three different locations: the public football field on Thaweewong Rd in Patong; Karon Circle and Phuket Provincial Hall.

In a flyer urging all operators and staff of night venues to attend the protest in Patong, the organizers stated, “The continued 1 am closing policy threatens to destroy Patong’s tourism industry and put thousands of people out of work.

“It was disclosed to the press that the government wants to close bars and entertainment in Patong so ‘the ladies’ will return to their provinces in the North.

“We have been accused of ‘Human Trafficking’ for prostitution and as the cause of youth drugs and underage drinking.

“We believe the policy is having the opposite effect of the intended purpose.”

Sompetch Moosophon, President of the PEBA, said that, starting October 26, all entertainment venues would close down “in a show of support and strength in opposition to the damaging effects of the government’s 1 am closing policy.”

In fact, only venues located inside the night entertainment zone are allowed to stay open until 1 am. Those outside are required to close even earlier, at midnight, though this regulation has not been strictly enforced in most parts of Phuket.

“We have yet to decide how long we will close for, but it will begin on October 26. After that, we will wait and see if we will receive the time we want [3 am] before the start of the high season,” he said.

Many tuk-tuk and motorcycle taxi drivers and owners of beauty salons, massage parlors, restaurants, cafés and even some hotels are expected to cease operations indefinitely in a show of solidarity, he added.

Chairat Sukbal, owner of the Safari Pub and Deputy Mayor of Patong Municipality, said that Patong Municipality supports the protest because the bulk of the municipality’s income is in the form of taxes derived from the entertainment industry.

He said the demonstrators would be allowed to use the football field to set up a stage and the municipality would provide portable toilets.

A representative from Kata-Karon district said that up to 700 people would join a simultaneous protest at Karon Circle tomorrow.

She said the demonstration would also be non-violent and alcohol-free, and would include speeches and stage performances. She added that the recent downturn in business in the Kata-Karon area had been so severe that the protesters were prepared to close down for five or even 10 days, if necessary.

PEBA member Chaiya Tamchoo said Phuket Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura should use his CEO powers to allow entertainment venues to stay open until 4 am – in keeping with the Government’s stated desire to develop Phuket into an “international city”.

Failure to take such action would render the Governor no more effective than his predecessors who did not enjoy expanded CEO powers, he said.

On September 30, Gov Udomsak submitted a letter to the Interior Ministry asking them to consider allowing entertainment venues in Phuket to close at 2 or 3 am.

However, he also told the Gazette recently that the earlier closing times might help reduce the number of women moving to Phuket from other parts of Thailand to work in the “service industry”.

While saying it is their rights to protest in this way, the Governor questioned what benefits – if any – the protesters would derive from the shut-down.

The protesters say they want to show the government just how much revenue Phuket stands to lose in the long term because of the earlier closing times.

At the meeting, the PEBA presented a letter from the Phuket Tourist Association (PTA) presenting data that showed that 20% of the 50,000 tourists a day who visit Phuket during the high season go to nightspots, spending between 3.5 to 4 million baht every hour.

The earlier closing times will result in an annual loss in revenue of 25 billion baht, according to the PTA data.

This information was included in the letter submitted by Gov Udomsak to the Interior Ministry, K. Sompetch told the Gazette.

Phuket News
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