Pilot scheme to reopen nightlife venues in Singapore a welcome move but not viable in the long term, say operators

Nightlife businesses, which include bars, pubs, nightclubs and karaoke joints, have been among the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. — TODAY pic
Nightlife businesses, which include bars, pubs, nightclubs and karaoke joints, have been among the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 7 — Nightlife operators welcomed the authorities’ move to pilot the reopening of nightlife businesses, but the industry association president has warned operators to not bank on the pilot programme as a means to make a comeback.

Yesterday, the Trade and Industry Ministry announced that a small number of nightlife venues will be allowed to reopen from December under a short pilot scheme, but they have to implement stringent safe distancing measures.

Nightlife businesses, which include bars, pubs, nightclubs and karaoke joints, have been among the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, as they have been ordered to shut since March this year and therefore have not been operating for more than six months.

Dennis Foo, an industry veteran dubbed “Nightlife King”, said: “Whereas other cities either allow or disallow nightspot opening, this pilot scheme with detailed safety measures mitigates the risks and, if successful, can be rolled out to the rest of the industry, especially when the situation improves further.”

Francesca Way, founder of A Phat Cat Collective that operates bars Nineteen80 and Pinball Wizard, also said that the pilot is a concrete first step to what she hopes is the eventual reopening of the entire industry.

“Just staying closed is not the solution,” she said.

While Joseph Ong, the president of Singapore Nightlife Business Association, also said that the pilot to reopen the nightlife sector is necessary, only a very small number of operators would be granted approval, and even then capacity restrictions would be in place.

The requirement that all customers entering karaoke lounges or nightclubs having to test negative for Covid-19 24 hours before the end of their activity also means additional costs may have to be borne by the operators.

The costs of the Covid-19 tests, as well as the convenience in administering them, were also concerns raised by other industry players.

But Way said that testing requirements, while strict, are needed to create a safer environment for customers and staff.

With higher costs and limited operating capacity, Ong said the pilot scheme would not be viable for businesses in the long term.

“The pilot is not the real end point. It sounds expensive and difficult,” he said.

Hence, he believes that nightlife businesses should continue to look at how they can change their business model, instead of banking on all their hopes on being part of this pilot programme.

“Hoping to be part of a pilot is probably going to be very difficult to justify as a strategy. The options available for most operators are still pivoting or exiting Hope is not a strategy, right?” he said.

“Of course, you can wait for the pilot if you are friendly with the landlord. But most people that I know, they can’t wait it out anymore.”

While supportive of the move, Way said the 10.30pm alcohol curfew should be relooked as most clubs actually start having customers only after 11pm.

“It would be tricky to get people to shift this behaviour to start and end clubbing before 10.30pm,” she said.

Foo also pointed out that the pilot scheme was also silent on the possibility of having live entertainment.

“Since March this year, many artistes, singers and musicians are out of work. If these entertainers are not engaged soon, many may switch lines and never come back to the industry, which can be a real waste as a good talent pool takes a long time to develop,” he said.  —  TODAY

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