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Creating a Vibrant India, after dark!

Damayanti Gurtu

Tuesday, November 29, 2016, 13:26 Hrs  [IST]

Sunburn Goa

Nightlife indicates a set of recreational activities that is available from the late evening and may exceed to the wee hours of the morning. It includes everything from restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, discotheques to theatres, cinemas, concerts, malls, fast food joints and roadside eateries. A vibrant nightlife is a deciding factor for people to choose which city they want to travel to. Damayanti Gurtu gives a low-down on the challenges affecting the industry and the facilitating environment a nightlife destination requires, policy level and otherwise.

New York, Las Vegas, London, Ibiza, Berlin, and Dubai – the mention of all these destinations conjures up images of sophisticated cocktail dens, upbeat dance festivals, historical pubs and pop ups, boat parties, trendy restaurants, crazy street performances, crowded concerts that truly fit the description of “a city that never sleeps”. Needless to say, such destinations inevitably attract an excessive amount of tourists, owing to their vibrant nightlife offerings. India, on the other hand, has always been a country renowned for its rich heritage, diverse cultures, languages and architectural grandeur, yet never for its nightlife. The cities of Las Vegas and Dubai get 48 million and 28 million visitors respectively in a year. India, as a country, receives only 8 million visitors. This comes as a surprise, as the nightlife sector in India is the fastest growing. India is also home to the largest youth population in the world, with nearly 701 million individuals below the age of 30. By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group. The scope of the nightlife scene in India is enormous and the revenue it generates for the government is desirable. Currently, there are over 6,200 licensed bar premises, contributing over 11,500 crores to the Indian economy growing at an astonishing CAGR of 20%. About 14,000 crore is the actual size of the PBCL market which is a largely organised market. This year alone, the Indian restaurant sector will create direct employment for 5.8 million people.

India's growing nightlife sector
Zorawar Kalra, Founder & MD, Massive Restaurants, the promoter of Farzi Café and Masala Library, cites globalisation and numerous other socio-economic factors, as the reasons why the concept of dining and entertaining outside the purview of one’s homes has seen remarkable growth in the past few years. While the growth of this trend is largely witnessed by major metropolises and cosmopolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and so on, Tier-II cities have also seen a steady growth in dining out. “The augmentation of this trend is also attributed to a new generation of working professionals who not just work hard, but also want to enjoy well in their personal life and don’t hesitate from spending or experimenting with their dining and nightlife experiences. This generation is looking for a fine worklife balance and is the new driving force behind the growth of this sector,” he says.

“Over the years, besides the western tourists, Indians, too, love to travel, whether within India or outside. Families also like visiting restaurants where they offer entertainment options like live bands. According to National Geographic, Goa has been voted sixth in the world for its nightlife and that definitely has contributed to more tourists coming in to see the place, informs David D’souza, Owner, Tito’s Goa. Bengaluru isn’t too far behind either. Its growing youth population and cosmopolitan culture can be now compared to that of Mumbai and Delhi. Mohammed Khan, Director – F&B, High Ultra Lounge, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, that sees a number of international artists, says, “A lot of party crowd is moving to this part of the city to experience these artists. This has not only increased the overall footfall in and around places but we also have experienced growth in our occupancy in the weekends. This might be small but very significant in times to come.”

Internationally, it is well accepted that nightlife is very important to a city. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is immensely popular because he has been quite vocal about creating policies favourable to the nightlife industry in London. This scenario may not be put to practice everywhere, especially when the term ‘nightlife’ is not thoroughly understood by authorities, and was earlier shunned upon, thereby causing frivolous problems and impeding its growth. “The people that object to having an active nightlife are the ones who look upon it immorally; those who think that nightlife is nothing more than consuming alcohol, gambling, drugs, partying, visiting dance bars and rash driving - all of which is a narrow myopic version of what nightlife is,” comments AD Singh, MD, Olive Bar and Kitchen, Mumbai, who is also responsible for the new Irani cafe-inspired eatery SodaBottleOpenerWala.

“There is a deep rooted misconception about "nightlife" or the "pub culture" in India. As trend setters and opinion makers from within the F&B industry, it is our responsibility to help change this perception and build a safer, more positive image for restaurants and bars. I believe that certain initiatives like providing guests with driver services with the aim that they don't drink & drive, precautions or safety measures for women party-goers, more relaxed laws and policies around liquor, timings, etc., which help foster a better understanding and acceptance within the local community. One needs to invest in positive brand/image building around the nightlife economy,” says Jasjit Singh Assi, Hotel Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, which boasts of AER, the 34th floor open-air lounge.

Riyaaz Amlani, President, National Restaurant Association of India, (NRAI), wonders how something as basic as the freedom to enjoy life can be perceived as bad or illegal. “Is our culture hiding at home and not meeting new people? Not enjoying life and living under a curfew? If something is legal in the day does it become illegal at night? These are questions that we all need to ponder upon. India is a young country. We need to start listening to what the youth wants. And what they want is a vibrant nightlife.”

L-R- Riyaaz Amlani, President, National Restaurant Association of India, (NRAI), Dilip Joshi, Restaurant and Lounge Consultant, David D'Souza, Owner, Tito’s Goa, AD Singh, MD, Olive Bar and Kitchen, Mumbai, Jay Singh, Co-Founder & Executive Director, JSM Corporation, Restaurateur Kishore DF, Aman Anand, Director, Kickstart Entertainment at INCA

While the prospects seem bright for the sector, its pace is curtailed due to numerous factors. The industry is over taxed on multiple levels, there is a lot of corruption in the trade, many cites still view it as a vice, and with that comes high levels of unwarranted policing, policing that is not consistently placed and is very selective. Real estate isn’t easily available and rent costs are high. Consumers are price sensitive; this makes it hard to break-even. Labour bills are constantly getting revised, further adding to costs. The industry is certainly in a challenged position, explains Jay Singh, Co-Founder & Executive Director, JSM Corporation. “What is astonishing is that most of the licensing procedures are outdated. They have been ratified some 50-60 years ago and aren’t relevant in today’s scenario. They don’t take into account factors such as home deliveries or QSRs. These are antique laws that are in dire need of a drastic modification,” shares Dilip Joshi, consultant for restaurants, bars, nightclubs & lounges.

Making India a pro-nightlife country
In a bid to give the nightlife industry the recognition it deserves, and to provide a platform for various stakeholders of the industry to come together, India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA) 2016, an intellectual property of Kickstart Entertainment and an initiative by National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), was created. Its main agenda? To apprise people that the nightlife industry is an industry on its own, that it contributes greatly to tourism, to the livability index of the city and to bring this to the attention of the government. Aman Anand, Director, Kickstart Entertainment, believes that as a property developer of INCA, he has achieved what he wanted. “Our main motive was to bring everyone together at one platform, and we have already managed to do that. That’s never happened before. Once we have the best from the bar and nightlife industry under one roof - the government will begin to take us seriously.”

Facilitating factors
Another thing that India could benefit from is creating 24-hour cities. Talking on the need for such cities, Alan Miller, Chairman & Founder, The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), says, “India is an exciting destination. It is a very welcoming place; the people here are enthusiastic and hospitable. This gives it so much potential. Having flexible licensing hours is really important. Why can you have a glass of wine and baguette at 5 am in Paris but not in India? The appropriate course of action is to work with councils and politicians to allow professionally run companies to procure a 24-hour license. You employ people, light up streets, it helps the retail industry better, and makes the fashion industry improve. It’s a win-win situation.”

Creating certain nightlife hubs or districts too, will aid in taking the pressure off of residential neighbourhoods. This leads to designated zones and helps contain any disturbances, and noise pollution. Cities can plan for better late night public transport facilities to ensure there are less accidents. The government should look at promoting organised and licensed businesses instead of unregulated and unlicensed businesses that could be a health hazard. “We have liquor shops slyly opening at night and supplying alcohol to people in dark corners who then drink and drive. It’s actually much safer when a city has a open and vibrant nightlife than not. We requested the government in Bengaluru and moved the deadline from 11:30 pm to 1 am. The government came out on record and said that there was no increase in any untoward incidences, incidentally the crime rates went down. It’s a well known fact that cities which are open till later tend to see lower crime rates,” informs Amlani.

Folk dance in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Kitty Su, one of the few remaining nightclubs in Mumbai, housed inside The Lalit Mumbai, offers pick-up and drop services to its guests, particularly lady guests, to ensure they are safe while having a good time. “We have campaigns in the club. We ensure that people don't drink and drive. We follow the law made by the government, but at the same time, the drawback in India is that unlike other countries, time restrictions here are quite stringent, adds Prabhkaran Hundal, GM, Kitty Su. Thus, lenient policies on deadlines and timings in the country would benefit establishments.

All dynamic, iconic urban hotspots are defined by culture, social engagement and interaction opportunities with a robust economy for tourism and locals alike. Nightlife experiences are an integral part of any big city today, and help determine how lively, vibrant and diverse a city is considered. The perception that a nightlife destination offers solely berserk parties and a drink-untilyou- can't-anymore atmosphere makes it harder for this sector to be seen in a positive light and is something that policymakers and authorities should keep in mind, before presenting it in such a manner.

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