They also look to the measure, which came into effect last Friday (Oct 1) as a stepping stone towards allowing pubs and bars across the island to reopen.
Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce noted that the move to allow alcohol to be sold, even though only until 10pm, came after long-standing pressure from Phuket’s business community.
Of note, in the end the easing of the alcohol restriction came quickly. Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew sent a formal request on Sept 27, noting, “... as restaurants and food establishments in hotels and other food or beverage outlets serve Phuket Sandbox tourists, the tourists are affected. The service is inconsistent with the guidelines for promoting tourism in Phuket.”
The formal written approval was received the next day.
“This has no effect on infections, and we have proved that there is no problem with the COVID-19 outbreak,” Mr Thanusak said.
“Therefore, the CESA [Centre for Economic Situation Administration in Bangkok] and the government has allowed Phuket to sell alcohol until 10pm in various restaurants, and for live music featuring no more than five musicians to be performed under the DMHTTA measures.
“The Private sector and the Chamber of Commerce itself welcome this, and I think that tourists who come via the Phuket Sandbox project will be happy,” he added.
“Drinking [alcohol] at a hotel or in a restaurant is not an issue that causes any germs to spread. I think that the relaxation along with the current state of Phuket’s industry infrastructure and the Phuket Sandbox at this time means this would be very beneficial to Phuket,” Mr Thanusak said.
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern Chapter, believes that if the relaxation of he alcohol restriction for hotels and restaurants goes well, and the number of new COVID-19 infections on the island continues to fall, the move will lead to the reopening of pubs and bars in Phuket.
“It’s the nature of leisure travel. Tourists on vacation want to live and drink as usual. In the past we were not allowed to drink. We have complained a lot, with hotels, restaurants and tourists deciding not to come. The regulation that prevented them from drinking was the main factor,” he said.
“Relaxing the restriction is a very good thing, but it should have been done a long time ago. We have been calling for it for two months, and we hope that it is the beginning of seeing travel return to normal,” he added.
“I understand that the many conditions that we have set can prevent COVID from spreading, but it also prevents tourists from coming,” Mr Kongsak said.
“If the authorities have sufficient statistics, numbers and academic data to allow us to relax measures in every matter, we want the measures to be relaxed. Pubs and bars may be the next phase. Relaxing the alcohol restriction for restaurants and venues with live music is a starting point. If possible, there are no further outbreaks, pubs and bars in Phuket will be allowed to reopen in the next phase,” he said.
Weerawit Kruesombat, the chairman of Patong Entertainment Business Association (PEBA) who has long lambasted the alcohol restrictions and the forced continued ban on pubs and bars reopening, noted that of hundreds of venues on Bangla Road, only a few locations are allowed to reopen.
However, even he welcomed the move. “Even if it’s only a small part, it’s a start, and that is good,” he said.
“The businesses that are currently open are the ones with permits to operate as restaurants, such as restaurants, but also pubs and bars that serve food, but those are the same ones that were previously allowed to operate by the [local] authorities, otherwise the business owners would not be able to go on,” Mr Weerawit explained.
“Now, the easing of the restrictions can help business owners to move forward. It’s better than not starting at all, even though it’s only until 10pm,” he added.
The Patong nightlife industry is doing its best to cooperate. All business operators and staff working on Bangla Rd were swab tested for COVID-19 before the easing of the alcohol restriction last Friday, he said.
“There will be follow-up swab tests every week, along with strict adherence to public health measures. Everyone is cooperating. Social distancing will be enforced and there are screening checkpoints onto Bangla Rd to check tourists and staff coming to work,” he added.
“Don’t forget that almost two years ago, entertainment venue operators were hit the hardest. Therefore, everyone will try to be careful not to repeat it again. Because if it happens again, it wouldn’t be possible for us to go on,” he said.
Mr Weerawit pointed out that the Patong nightlife operators understood that large venues were still not allowed to open, and that venues were not allowed to sell alcohol late into the night.
“If they open and create a new cluster of infections, it’s not worth it. But we do ask the government to help this group of businesses,” he said.
“And last, don’t forget that Bangla Road is famous and Sandbox tourists who come here want to experience the atmosphere. Since the first day of relaxing the alcohol restriction we have seen a lot more foreign tourists coming to the area. It is considered an answer, maybe not a 100% answer, but it does also help tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, restaurant operators and various retail outlets. It does help them to earn more,” Mr Weerawit concluded.