As ever, it’s been a bit of a topsy-turvy week, which started off pretty badly, improved considerably on Thursday and Friday, and then back to mild despair by Saturday.
There is definitely something amiss with the level of customers in The Darkside bars. I am repeatedly being told by customers and bar owners alike that it is the worst they have seen the bar scene out here in many years.
Since I opened Mobi’s, back in May, I have been assured repeatedly that business will pick up in September and October when all the ‘Darkside’ residents return from their summer breaks in Europe.
Well I am still hoping that this will indeed be the case but initial indications are not at all encouraging. Last Saturday, 31st August, was very slow fro a Saturday night, and then Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were the worst 4 trading days in a row since we opened.
Thursday and Friday saw a return to the ‘good times’ with the bar buzzing and the till ringing at acceptable levels, leading me to wonder if at long last we were turning the corner, but last night, we were back to very low business yet again.
I am well aware that I cannot read too much into a mere few days trading and we will have to see how the rest of September pans out, and then onwards into October before I start to predict our demise.
But there is no doubt that the current state of business around the lake is extremely worrisome. Many people continually tell me that compared to most other bars, Mobi’s is doing all right,as while all the rest might be lucky to have a single customer we might have 4 or 5.
It does seem to be true that we consistently outdo most of our competitors, but even with our relatively low overheads, the level of business is barely enough to break even, let alone make a profit, so what that says for the profitably of all the other bars is anyone’s guess.
The fact that we have succeeded in slowly building up a number of regulars, some of whom come by on most days, with others coming once or twice a week and yet others even more rarely, is in itself most gratifying. This is especially so as amongst this number are a few who are very generous with their spending when they do come.
But in spite of all this, the overall level of customers is still below our long term survival rate.
Many people have told me to be patient and that so far we have done surprising well and if we hang in there, over t time we will undoubtedly acquire more and more regulars.
This may be so, and I am continuing to hope that this may in fact be the case, but I have to admit that the signs are not good, and am not too sure how long we can hang on and put good money after bad, as the pot is getting ever smaller.
Why have I become so pessimistic?
The answer is that as stated above and by general consensus, business on the Darkside hasn’t been so bad for many a year.
Why this may be is anyone’s guess, but I would venture to suggest that the ongoing political troubles, followed by the coup, the curfew and martial law which has created a scarcity of tourists in Pattaya City, has also put off many of the ‘temporary residents’ of the Darkside from returning.
Darkside’s ‘temporary residents’ include a lot of offshore oil workers, many of whom have decided to move to ‘pastures new’ – to places such as Cambodia and the Philippines.
These destinations have recently become much more attractive as they are free of visa problems, the bars are open 24/7 and foreigners are actually welcomed, rather than resented and begrudged as has become increasingly the case in this so-called ‘Land of Smiles.’
Thailand recently attracted widespread international attention after a local press story announced that the existing laws regulating alcohol were going to be strictly enforced, including such measures as every bar most close at midnight, and the promotion of alcohol in any way whatsoever (including by word of mouth!) was subject to a jail term of 6 months…
Those who have live here for many years guessed, almost certainly correctly, that this was all so much hot air from someone without authority to make such pronouncements and nothing will change.
But it didn’t stop the international press from picking up the story (including a lead article in Time Magazine) and it undoubtedly did untold harm to Thailand’s tourist fragile industry at a time when the number of visitors has been falling off sharply.
There was a time – not so long ago – when Thailand was one of the favourite exotic locations for holiday makers from Europe, but alas no more. The problems mentioned above, along with bad publicity on Thailand’s dangerous roads (and the high number of foreigners being killed in road accidents), the blatant, two- tier pricing structure which tries to fleece tourists when they visit famous temples and national parks along with the thousands of commercial tourist enterprises who also operate outrageous and very expensive two-tier pricing polices.
When I used to live in Bangkok some years ago, it was a rare occasion indeed when a Bangkok cabbie would refuse to use his meter to take you to your destination.
These days it is are event indeed if a cabbie AGREES to use his meter to transport a foreigner across the capital city. Arbitrary fares of 2 –3 times the going meter-rate are now the norm and this is doing irreparable harm to the tourist industry.
I could go on and on. Violent, mafia-ridden, motorcycle taxi drivers, violent Jet Ski scams in Phuket and Pattaya , the increasingly blatant attempts by the corrupt police force to extort massive fines from foreigners on all manner of fabricated charges, and so on and so forth.
Is it any wonder that the ‘temporary visitors’ to the Darkside – such as oil workers on 28 days on 28 off, and others that work back in Europe and then fly to Thailand for a 1 to 3 month’s holiday in the sun, are now taking their hard earned money elsewhere?
I heard of a very wealthy oil worker the other day who has built a 200,000 pound, ($320,000), house on the Darkside, and who has become so fed up with the highly confusing visa situation that he has left Thailand for good, leaving instructions to ‘let his house rot’ and has no intention of putting it up for sale. Such is his contempt for the country he once loved and invested so much money in.
The other day, for the first time – ever – to my knowledge, there was a huge police road block along the road by the lake and every single motorist was pulled over in order to check their papers and to see if they had been drinking.
Those who live in Thailand will assure you that the cops rarely – if ever – stop cars, and always concentrate on extorting money from motorcycle drivers, and occasionally pick-up drivers. But on this occasion, they were extorting every driver, nearly all of the expats, and demanding massive pay-offs to let them go on their way, raising the threat of a night or two in jail if they couldn’t pay.
Now I am the first to admit that many of these drivers would have been drinking and many would indeed be over the limit. But the cops had no means of knowing. They had no breathalysers, no blood testing equipment and no methods whatsoever of assessing each driver’s level of alcohol, such as asking them to walk in a straight line etc.
It was out and out extortion, and everyone had to pay, regardless of whether or not they had been drinking. Some got away with paying as little as 40 pounds ($60) but others were hauled off to jail and had to pay as much as 300 pounds ($480) to obtain their release.
I heard through the grapevine that the local police chief is being transferred soon and he wants to maximise his income before he goes, as he paid a very high (under-table) price to get his job in the first place.
Regrettably, it really isn’t that hard to come up with any number of reasons to explain the almost deserted streets and bars down-town in Pattaya City and the extremely low level of customers out here on the Darkside.
We can only hope that the new military government sees what is happening to Thailand’s valuable tourist industry and takes the right steps to arrest the decline.
They have already relaxed some of the rules regarding visas for people coming and going on a regular basis, but if anything, this has only increased the confusion.
People who used to come and go on 30-day ‘visa exempt’ basis, are now going to places like Singapore to apply for a tourist visa, only to be told their application had been rejected as they have been to Thailand too many times!
So then they are advised to travel to Bangkok without a visa….I ask you, how crazy is it?
A thorough review of the entire visa issuing and renewal system is clearly necessary, as it is the uncertainty as much as anything that is deterring many would-be visitors from travelling to Thailand.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, A close family friend of Noo’s died last week so on Wednesday morning, Noo and her son made the long round trip to Samut Songkhram and back to attend the funeral.
In addition to this unplanned midweek trip, I was due to travel to Bangkok on Friday to see my specialist and if that wasn’t enough, Noo and I were invited to a 50th wedding anniversary party in Pattaya on Saturday (yesterday) by two of our regular customers.
I decided it was all too much for one week, on top of taking care of the bar, so I postponed my visit to the specialist for three weeks.
This might not have been the best decision I have made lately as I increasingly find that my meds are no longer working quite as well as they used to and I am now getting regular bouts of diarrhoea and some worrying pains in my upper abdomen.
My medical condition is still a long way from the critical state it was in last year, but I will be glad when I have seen the doc and heard what he has to say.
Last night, Noo and I made a rare evening trip to Pattaya to join many of our friends, the ‘usual suspects’ and other guests to celebrate the above-mentioned 50th Wedding Anniversary of two very charming septuagenarians.
We hadn’t known them long and no one was more surprised than me when we received a formal invitation to join the festivities – an invitation that we couldn’t possibly refuse.
In all, around 100 people attended the party in the function room at the Montien Hotel and it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We left at around 10.30 pm, suitably replete and hurried back to the Darkside see how the bar had been doing in our absence.
Hmm… not a single customer.
We found Auntie, (the cashier), lying asleep on the floor behind the bar, and the music was turned off so that it wouldn’t disturb her slumbers.