Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dry Days / Alcohol Ban for Songkran 2009 ???

Thailands Government Considers Alcohol Ban - Songkran Festival 2009 ( April 13 - 15th )

Update 30th March - Ban cancelled - see this post

It is a sad fact that road deaths in Thailand skyrocket over the period of the Thai National Holiday, known as the Songkran Festival. The vast majority of these deaths are of Thai people and are attributed to drink driving. In an effort to reduce the number of these deaths the government of Thailand is considering imposing an alcohol sales ban over all or part of the festival. Alcohol bans are not a new thing, they are regularly put in place in Thailand for other good reasons but never before for the Songkran holiday period. See Dry Days in Thailand.

This proposed ban sounds a good idea to many people but in my opinion the effects of the ban will have a minimal effect on the casualty figures and a significant effect on innocent tourists and the tourist industry. I base my opinion on my experiences in Thailand over the last seven years.

The proposed ban will not affect sales of alcohol on the days leading up to the festival allowing the more wealthy people to stock up ready to sell at a profit on the black market when the ban is in place.

Throughout the more rural areas of Thailand the villagers make their own alcohol, and of course this will not be effected by the ban. This home made brew is very strong and is the cause of many problems, not just drink driving. As the vast majority of the rural workers will not be working, the consumption of this brew will increase significantly.

More importantly, it will not be possible to enforce a ban in the vast majority of places throughout the country. The country is too big ! The small independent shops will still sell alcohol and many bars will be still open but will look closed. I say this because during all the previous bans I have seen alcohol openly sold from many of these places. In addition many Thai people I know say that the people who own these places cannot afford not to sell alcohol as rents and other people have to be paid regardless of them having to refrain from selling it. Of course the vast majority of their customers are Thai's.

It is also highly unlikely that small shops or bars situated in the rural areas will close, for the same reasons.

However, the ban will be complied with by the big national chains of shops, such as 'Carrefour' and 'Big C', and the smaller 'Family Marts' and ''7 Elevens' because they have a lot to lose and are easy targets for enforcement action. The bars in the tourist areas will close for the same reasons.

Therefore the easy targets for enforcement action are those places frequented by tourists, and it therefore follows a ban will have a detrimental effect on the already declining tourist industry. The effects a ban will have on a Thai's drinking habits are negligible.

As tourists rarely feature in the road casualty figures over the Songkran period it shows that the proposed alcohol ban is a waste of time and money. Lets hope the government realise this.

The way to reduce the casualty figures is by the use of proper enforcement action on the road itself, which is somewhat lacking all year round.

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