Bar revenues fall as curfew continues

The General Administration Department, which issues licenses to venues to serve alcohol, sets closing times at 11pm. In the past this rule has often been broken, but police clamped down on closing times in May, using a report of an attack by a male taxi driver on a female passenger to reinforce the law.

Since then, the curfew has been strictly enforced, leading to a decline in customers and reduced revenues of up to 40pc, according to bar owners interviewed by The Myanmar Times. None of them agreed to be named for this article.

If the strict oversight continues, some say it will severely hurt the industry. “Some bars will close for sure. Those that are new or unknown, or with low cash flow reserves, are doomed,” said the owner of a well known expatriate bar in Yangon.

Others agree. “Our late-night bar income is very important for our overall revenue. It is painful to have to close a full bar with people who are trying to order more drinks and stay longer,” said a bar owner in the downtown area.

Shorter opening hours mean a more competitive market, as bars are forced to target the same customer pool as restaurants, within the same hours. “This timeframe is very narrow considering the time that it takes for people to leave work, battle with traffic, go home and then get back out,” said the owner of the downtown bar.

Some owners believe the curfew has mostly affected businesses that cater to foreigners, and that local bars, including hotel bars, sports bars and beer stations, have not been impacted so badly.

However, U Nay Lin, deputy chair of the Myanmar Restaurants Association, said that many local bars are also closing earlier than usual. “Of course this will have a very bad impact on the bars. They are closed the whole day and only open in the evenings – people only visit them after work,” he said.

“Most of the bars now close before 11pm because they don’t want to get into trouble, and many of them don’t have an alcohol licence,” he said. “As far as I know, the government wants to control the consumption of alcohol to reduce potential crime cases.”

Others believe that the crackdown is part of a wider effort to maintain a stable environment in the run-up to the elections, and that it will remain in place until the voting process is complete.

“Most people we have spoken to think it is related to the elections and has nothing to do with any reported incidents concerning expats. There are no indications now that this is likely to change anytime soon,” said the bar owner in downtown Yangon.

Others say that the curfew is likely to tighten further. “They will continue squeezing. Some businesses apparently have to close at 10:30pm right now and I’ve heard that they plan to go to 9pm before elections,” said one bar owner.

However, Yangon Region government adviser U Aung Kyaw Soe said that there has been no change in the law and that its enforcement will not change during the election period.

“Clubs and bars are allowed to open until 11pm and no later. This hasn’t changed – clubs and bars have not been ordered to close early because of the election drawing near, or because of an incident,” he said, adding that closing times are being managed by township general administrators.

Mingalar Taung Nyunt township administrator U Myat Ko Htway said, “Bars and clubs must close at 11pm, but they can be closed earlier if necessary, according to the law. Regional order 188 has already been announced. Action will be taken against clubs and bars open after 11pm.”

Section 188 states that a person not following an order of a public servant who is legally permitted to give such an order can be jailed for a month, fined or both. If the failure to obey causes danger or leads to rioting, the punishment jumps to six months in jail, a fine or both.

The police have no sway over closing times, said Police Major Pyae Sone from the Yangon Region news releasing unit. “The police are just in charge of preventing trouble. The township administrators are prosecuting massage parlours, but they haven’t taken the cases to the police station, and the regional government hasn’t closed the buildings,” he said.

U Nay Lin said that he hoped the curfew would be lifted in the future as Yangon becomes a modern city. “There are many investors from all over the world, and we need hotels, commercial buildings, good transportation and good restaurants, as well as bars and nightlife,” he said.

Some bar owners say that the 11pm closing time has hurt foreign investment appetite. One owner said that he will not open any more properties in the near future as a result. Another agreed. “This decision and the massive increase of taxes on liquors and wines coming into the country means that the bar business is very risky – especially with the crazy rent prices, greedy landlords and instable supply chain,” he said.

However, others say that this is a short-term issue and that they remain confident. “This does not change the way the way I’m feeling about future investments,” said the owner of a restaurant and bar in downtown Yangon. “It is part of the risk of investing in Myanmar – and although it would be painful if the curfew lasts until the end of the year, I’m sure it’ll blow over at some point,” he said.

“The government has imposed curfews and curtailed public life plenty of times in the past in Myanmar, and every time things have gone back to normal eventually.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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