Businesses have welcomed the government's decision to extend opening hours for nightspots to 4am in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri and Phuket from Dec 15.
They also want the government to assign clear zoning for entertainment venues and measures to ensure tourism safety.
On Friday, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and Interior Minister Anutin Charvirakul discussed extending nightlife opening hours for a trial period with the Tourism and Sports Ministry, Royal Thai Police and the four provincial governors.
The measure will first be implemented in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri and Phuket to boost tourism and is expected to take effect from Dec 15. Mr Srettha said state agencies will consider how many months is suitable for the trial.
The extension will be temporary for the moment, and discussions about a change of zoning will be held in the future.
He said the government intends to spur the economy and tourism domestically. The plan will also help generate more income for businesses in the tourism sector, including restaurants and entertainment venues.
He pointed out that some foreigners do not have similar dining habits as Thais. Some dine around 9pm-10pm. If opening hours are limited to midnight or 2am, customers might have to dine earlier, and that decreases the amount of food they order.
Mr Srettha also said extending opening hours to 4am is workable, after having spoken with security agencies. He added the Interior Ministry will look into zoning and licences and police will try to ensure people's safety and increase illicit drug suppression.
Mr Anutin said the Interior Ministry will propose a law allowing provincial governors to announce the zoning and operating hours of night entertainment venues.
Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt said new zoning for nightlife venues in Bangkok cannot be assigned before Dec 15.
However, the extension of opening hours can be applied to more than 200 entertainment venues in the premises of hotels as well as existing zones -- RCA on Phetchaburi Road, Silom Road and Ratchadaphisek Road.
He added that CCTV cameras will also be used to ensure the safety of tourists while police will be asked to check tourists for drugs and conduct breathalyser tests.
Thanit Chumsaeng, president of the Chiang Mai Restaurant and Entertainment Venue Association, agreed with the government's decision, saying the government should also assign clear zoning for entertainment venues so nightlife businesses do not disturb nearby communities.
He said the Interior Ministry is expected to issue an announcement which will authorise provincial governors in major tourism cities to enforce the extension of opening hours and oversee entertainment venues.
Mr Thanit said Chiang Mai's urban landscape keeps changing and its current zoning for entertainment venues may have to be revised accordingly.
He said the extension of the opening hours should apply to downtown areas, such as in the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road, which is already a popular destination for both locals and tourists.
While longer hours will benefit numerous nightlife venues in such areas, operators will also have to shoulder higher electricity bills, and wages for workers and other costs, which will increase by 10-20%, he said.
It is up to each operator to weigh these pros and cons before deciding whether to open until 4am, as some nightlife venues are more popular than others, Mr Thanit said.
As for entertainment venues located outside zoning in Chiang Mai, they should be allowed to open until 2am.
They include those along the Nimmanhaemin Road, Asadathorn Road, and Santitham Road. Their customers are mostly locals and students, he said, adding that nightlife venues should be located far away from schools, universities, and temples.
He went on to say that the government should also waive excise tax for entertainment venues that open after midnight as they already have to pay liquor tax and cigarette tax.
This measure will help operators who support the government's campaign to promote tourism, he said.
According to Chiang Mai's local authorities, more than 10,000 entertainment venues have licences to operate and 70-80% of them are located in downtown areas, with more than 80,000 workers employed that would generate about 20 billion baht.
Thaneth Tantipiriyakij, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said business operators in Phuket previously proposed an extension of the operating hours of entertainment venues until 4am when the prime minister visited the island province in August.
He said allowing these venues to open until 4am will increase tourism revenue by about 30%.
Mr Thaneth said business operators in Phuket suggested that clear zoning be designated for entertainment venues to avoid disturbing the nearby communities and safety regulations be put in place to prevent any unwanted incidents during the later hours.
Authorities must estimate how much security personnel is needed to ensure safety for tourists and they should also consider increasing CCTV cameras along the street, or setting more security checkpoints to detect drink-driving motorists.
Problems such as quarrels, drug abuse, and drunk driving should be regulated through stricter law enforcement to assure minimal consequences from the extended hours, he said.
He said the extension should be trialled on Bangla Road in Kathu district where several nightlife venues operate.
Thaneth Revenue will go up by 30%
Damrongkiat Pinitkarn, secretary to the Entertainment & Tourism Association of Pattaya City, said Pattaya is a popular tourist destination and is ready for the extension of operating hours.
''Operators here promotes nightlife tourism activities. Tourists dine at around 6pm and chill out at the Walking Street in Pattaya before entering night entertainment venues at around 11pm.
''The current closing hour at 2am is too early as operators do their business for only a few hours and the fun for tourists also ends too soon,'' he said.
He also agreed with stricter law enforcement to curb problems such as drink-driving and prevent underage youngsters from entering nightlife venues.
''Pattaya has another advantage as there are no universities nearby so there is no problem involving underage students patronising pubs,'' Mr Damrongkiat said.
With opening hours extended until 4am, each entertainment venue in Pattaya is expected to see their income increase by 60,000-70,000 baht per night, he said.
Damrongkiat: 2am is too early
Registration of more pubs
Sanga Ruengwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Businesses Association, also supports the extension, saying the government should also allow more entertainment venues to apply for registration legally.
''Over the past 10 years, no new entertainment venues have been registered legally. Several operators have to offer money under-the table [to authorities] so they can operate their businesses,'' Mr Sanga said.
''For those legally licenced to operate, authorities can easily inspect them to ensure they comply with safety standards, while unlicensed venues are not subject to inspection, which can pose safety risks to patrons,'' he said.
Mr Sanga said licensed entertainment venues must meet certain criteria, including having fire exits or emergency exits, and first aid kits.
"Several shophouses have been modified into entertainment venues without proper safety measures in cases of emergency,'' he said.
''The government must lay down clear regulations to prevent those who fail to meet requirements for operating nightlife venues until 4am,'' he said.
Sanga: Let more venues register legally
However, Ratchaporn Poonsawat, president of the Koh Samui Tourism Association, complained that Koh Samui of Surat Thani is not among the provinces where the extension of opening hours for entertainment venues is taking effect.
He said business operators here already discussed an extension of opening hours with the previous government.
He said Koh Samui does not cover a large area so it is easy to designate zoning for entertainment venues, while police are also ready to ensure the safety of tourists. He added he wondered why Koh Samui hadn't been considered for the extension.
Opposing the move
Chuwit Jantaros, coordinator of the Anti-Alcohol Network, refuted claims by business operators that the extension is in response to foreign tourists' demands.
A study shows that before Covid, up to 80% of foreign tourists visited Thailand to visit natural and cultural attractions and see local ways of life.
''The claims are unfounded. I don't believe the extension will spur the economy,'' Mr Chuwit said, adding that drinking alcohol is what is to blame for more accidents and crime.
Chuwit: Extension won't spur economy
Thatchawut Jadbandit, a researcher at the Academic Centre For Road Safety, said the benefit of the extension may be not worth the risk. Citing some data from the Department of Disease Control from January until August, he said the number of deaths and injuries as a result of drink-driving stood at 50,164.