Nightlife in the dark

Latin America's nightclubs continue to close or convert, will any survive the pandemic?

Restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic around the world have devastated the nightlife industry. Social distancing, lockdowns, use of masks and night curfews have made survival for night clubs almost impossible in Latin America.

At the end of 2020, after a brief slowdown in COVID-19 infections, nightlife venues reopened in Mexico City, Bogotá and Sao Paulo. Unfortunately for the sector, these limited re-openings proved short-lived as both regional and state governments imposed new restrictions when infection figures began to rise again.

Nightlife workers throughout the region have complained about unfair government treatment as daytime industries are allowed to operate. They also blame public bodies for ignoring infection rates in clandestine parties and indoor gatherings.

A manager of music bands in Argentina confirmed, “The entertainment sector has been the hardest hit by far – no nightclub has reopened yet. Only a few music venues, with a limited capacity, have been allowed to hold events. The problem is that the lockdown has just created an underground scene of clandestine parties – when the consumer wants something but can’t get it legally, they look for other options.”

“The problem is that the lockdown has just created an underground scene of clandestine parties – when the consumer wants something but can’t get it legally, they look for other options.”

Manager, music bands, Argentina

The Mexican Association of Bars, Clubs and Nightclubs estimated that, by May 2021, restrictions had cost 400,000 jobs throughout the country. In Colombia, the merchants’ association FENALCO said that, by April 2021, 27,000 bars and restaurants had shut down since the beginning of the pandemic. In Panama, the Restaurants, Bars and Clubs Association (“Arbyd”) recently said that the nightlife sector continues to register losses and accumulate debts. Arbyd called for a national strategy involving public entities, business associations and banks to aid the survival of most nightlife businesses.

In Argentina, almost 2,000 venues have closed. An events manager in Argentina provides more context, “The total number of music venues in Argentina is about 4,000, so 50% of them have closed. The direct impact of this might not seem like much on a national scale, but you have to think about the total supply chain, all those SME’s are going to go bust too.”

“The total number of music venues in Argentina is about 4,000, so 50% of them have closed.”

Events manager, Argentina

Meanwhile, in order to survive, nightclubs are exploring new opportunities which include moving to outdoor venues, diversifying their offering to attract multiple audiences and even converting into restaurants. A former nightclub owner confirmed, “For now, the only option for nightclubs is to adapt. We have converted into a restaurant, which is a permitted activity, others have converted into supermarkets.”

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