Analysis: Will McGettigan's smoking ban in Dubai spark a trend?

So will we see other bars, pubs and clubs in the UAE follow the lead of McGettigans' and other venues that have chosen to jump before they are pushed?

Restaurants, Mcgettigans

When the UK government introduced a smoking ban in all enclosed public places in England and Wales including pubs, bars and restaurants, on July 1, 2007, observers predicted it would spell the end for many licensed premises.

More than 7,000 pubs have indeed gone out of business in the subsequent 10 years, and while not all of those closures can be attributed to the smoking ban, it was an undeniable factor in the decline of trade, especially for wet-led (non-food) pubs and those with no outdoor space.

But some pub companies were in favour of the ban. The managed-house chain JD Wetherspoon actually pre-empted the law with a trial ban of its own in 2006 – its chairman saying at the time: "An increasing percentage of the population are giving up smoking and a significant number of people are staying away from pubs and restaurants because they are too smoky.”

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This week’s announcement by McGettigan’s JBR in the Hilton Dubai to do likewise and confirm that the sports bar will be designated non smoking, ahead of any legal requirement to do so, has echoes of Wetherspoons’ decision more than a decade ago.

“Dubai as a whole is becoming a healthier place to live but there is a lack of non-smoking options across bars and restaurants in the JBR community,” said Hilton Dubai Jumeirah cluster general manager Andreas Searty.

And while Wetherspoons’ faced a backlash for its decision that saw it abandon the trial, it seems McGettigans is standing firm with the support of its customers. “We felt that the reception from our patrons would be positive but the reaction has been overwhelming. The venue has been busy every night since we opened and we’ve received dozens of messages thanking us for making it non-smoking,” added Searty.

Social media reactions to Hotelier Middle East’s story about the ban have also been positive. “This is awesome!! Might actually tempt me to go in there,” said one Tweeter.

“Brilliant move - I wonder if the WTC one will dare to do the same?” said another.

“When I had Nezesaussi in Manzil Downtown we were non-smoking. I think it definitely gained us as many guests as it lost us,” posted general manager Jonathan Gard.

And that has to be the main calculation made by any venue in terms of a decision to go non-smoking. Will the net effect of a smoking ban lead to an increase or decrease in customers?

Of course there are also considerations about the health of staff, the fire risks, extraction equipment and the additional cleaning associated with smoking. Though of course it was quickly noticed after the UK smoking ban that the smell of stale tobacco was preferable to some of the other odours that it had previously masked.

So will we see other bars, pubs and clubs in the UAE follow the lead of McGettigans’ and other venues that have chosen to jump before they are pushed?

The answer is surely yes. Smoking is a dying habit in both senses. And while the Middle East’s smokers still enjoy (relatively) cheap tobacco and greater freedoms than their fellow addicts in the West, the direction of travel is undeniably one way towards further restrictions.

A ban on smoking in public places in the UAE was mooted in mid-2016. And although it yet to take effect, it will eventually. So expect to see more pubs make a virtue of going smoke free, and take advantage of the marketing opportunity that provides, before they are made to comply along with everyone else by the heavy hand of the law.

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