Preechavude ‘Prab’ Keesin, President of the Pisona Group of companies and founder of the Patong Development Foundation, told The Phuket News this week that extending the closing time for entertainment venues was important, but not at the expense of the safety of patrons in the venues.
The push to ensure safe night venues follows Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn meeting with operators of entertainment venues on Khao San Rd in Bangkok to discuss extending the closing time to 4am.
According to state news reports, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is already drafting plans to rezone night entertainment venues in the capital to ensure public safety.
Pol Gen Adis Ngamchitsuksri, advisor to Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt on city and tourism management, said a review on revising zones for night entertainment venues is currently ongoing following two recent fire incidents within the last two months ‒ the most prominent being the Mountain B nightclub fire disaster in Chon Buri on Aug 5 that killed 20 people and left more than a dozen in hospital with serious injuries.
Regardless, Mr Phiphat said extending the closing time for nightlife venues would not be exclusive to Khao San Rd, as he is looking for potential areas in other provinces to adopt the same regulation. This will, however, require legal assistance from the Ministry of Interior, he said.
In Phuket, officials teamed up with local night venue operators to hold a mass fire drill on Bangla Rd on Aug 18, with hundreds of people taking part. The drill simulated a fire breaking out at the Illuzion nightclub, with “patrons” leaving the club through the fire exits and fire response teams entering the building to douse the flames.
The simulation included the recovering of 10 “victims” from the scene. A triage tent was set up on Bangla Rd, where medical teams were on hand to treat the “victims”, who were also transported to Patong Hospital.
The event was overseen by Phuket Vice Governors Pichet Panapong and Anupap Rodkwan Yodrabam, along with Patong Mayor Chalermsak Maneesri, police and other officials.
Kathu District Chief Siwat Rawangkul explained that the fire drill was organised as a direct result of the Mountain B nightclub fire in Chon Buri on Aug 5.
Of note, the day before the mass fire drill was held marked 10 years since the Tiger Discotheque fire on Bangla Rd that killed four people and injured 11 others in the early hours of Aug 17, 2012.
As with the Mountain B fire, a key factor in the Tiger Discotheque fire was that decorations and foam panelling in the nightclub acted as an accelerant for the fire. Flames spread very quickly throughout the club and thick toxic smoke quickly overpowered many of the people inside.
“Kathu District Office and Patong Municipality, with the cooperation of the nightclub owner, jointly organised this fire drill and fire evacuation drill in order to prevent an incident like the case of Mountain B fire and to campaign for people to be aware of the loss from fire, and thus create safety awareness among people, as well as being prepared to deal with fires that may occur,” Mr Siwat said.
Vice Governor Anupap warned that some fires are unpreventable, and that the general public and business operators must be prepared in case of fire.
Patong was especially important for fire safety, he added.
“This is an important economic area with many buildings, shops and services. To cope with various accidents, in both prevention and response, the government must regularly join with all sectors in campaigning and raising awareness of fire safety.
“We must create a culture of awareness of safety among people in the area as well as to build confidence for tourists to continue,” he said.
Mr Preechavude agreed, noting that the Tiger Disco inferno had resulted in club owners on Bangla Rd upgrading their fire safety measures to international standard.
“This is for the highest safety of service users, operators and all employees,” he said, adding that materials used in entertainment venues on Bangla Rd are difficult to ignite.
“The materials used in the current entertainment venues are not like in the days of Tiger, which used the old foam injection decorations. Nowadays, the materials are modern and fire resistant,” Mr Preechavude said.
“Compared to the old Tiger, we hardly have any fuel or easy-to-ignite devices. Even the curtains or any foams used are fire retardant,” Mr. Preechawut said.
“Most service places on Bangla Rd don’t have any flammable equipment at all. All operators cooperate very well with fire safety. In addition, the government is constantly strict in its control of service places to focus on the safety of tourists,” he said.
The fire drill held last week was a clear example of making sure night venue staff and local emergency response teams are clear on what to do in case of a fire, he added.
Regarding Tourism Minister Phiphat’s current efforts to have the closing time of nightlife venues extended, Mr Preechavude expressed his admiration and full support.
“Extending the closing time to 4am is considered the best ‘land management intelligence’, so that we can compete on the global stage,” he said.
“Bangla has been waiting for this for almost 30 years. If it is approved, I think we will be able to adjust easily. I believe that the economy will improve, it will bolster confidence in safety and help boost investment so we can compete better on a global level, especially with other international tourist cities,” Mr Preechavude said.
Bangla Rd is an ideal area for creating a late-trading zone for nightlife venues, he said.
“It can’t be done in every city, and even in Patong we can only do it in only one area of seven zones. Bangla Rd itself is only a few hundred metres long with an area of less than 1 sq km,” he added.
“The economic value remains to be seen,” he cautioned. “It may still take time to get better again, and it may not be the same as in the pre-COVID era.”
Mr Phiphat last week pointed out that Thailand’s tourism industry had been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its reopening, the country has now welcomed around 1 million visitors each month, with up to 1.2mn expected in August.
The Tourism Minister added that extending the nightlife closing time, coupled with a concerted push for tourist safety, could generate an extra 20% in tourism revenue.
Mr Phiphat said that he is willing to discuss this matter with those opposing the idea, but was intent on proposing the idea to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in September or October.
Meanwhile, Mr Preechavude repeated, “In terms of safety, extending the closing time to 4am is is not a critical issue, as long as all parties pay attention to and strictly enforce safety standards.”