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Business trends

Thailand bars to stay open later, to counter China slump

Nightspots hope extension to 4 a.m. will recoup lost revenue

The Thai government, keen to offset slow growth in overseas tourism, is considering extending the operating hours of nightspots in some areas. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BANGKOK -- Thailand, a tourism powerhouse known for its nightlife, is looking to liven things up even more by letting bars and clubs stay open later.

The country's Ministry of Tourism and Sports is considering extending closing times at nightspots in some areas to 4 a.m. At the moment, such establishments must close by 2 a.m. By extending closing times, the ministry hopes to encourage tourists to loosen their purse strings.

Tourism centers in Thailand, such as Bangkok and Pattaya, have sprawling entertainment districts billed as among the largest in Asia and they teem with foreign revelers. One shop owner welcomed the proposal to keep the fun going into the small hours of the night. "If the closing time is extended by two hours, our revenue should increase by 30% to 40%," he said.

Although civil society groups complain that heavy-drinking tourists cause accidents and other problems, the government estimates that extending closing hours at entertainment establishments will lift visitors' daily spending by 25%, delivering a welcome economic boost.

Until recently, Thai authorities were more concerned with cleaning up the somewhat sordid image of Pattaya and other entertainment districts. Police frequently raided establishments where illegal activity was suspected, and alcohol selling hours are restricted by law.

Tourism is one of the country's key industries, accounting for about 20% of gross domestic product. But sluggish growth in foreign tourism has the government considering an about-face. The number of international visitors to Thailand rose just 1% on the year in the first half of 2019, forcing the government to cut its annual target.

The industry has been hit especially hard by a slump in big-spending Chinese visitors after a boat capsized on the resort island of Phuket last year, killing many Chinese.

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