Get serious on safety and security of touristsI refer to recent media reports on the need for the level of safety for tourists to be at ‘optimum’ level.

In responding to questions from Senator Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker who wanted to know whether the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac) will have a new policy and direction in strengthening tourism in the country, Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said the National Tourism Policy would be presented by the government next year.
He disclosed that the policy is still at discussion stage, which will involve stakeholders’ engagement sessions, and all ideas, opinions, and views in ensuring our tourism, arts and culture sectors are enhanced, developed and admired in the eyes of the world would be welcomed.
Over the years, I have attended many engagement sessions organised by various government agencies and wished they were more effective.
If government officials were sincere in gathering feedback from the public, they should have provided some notes in advance, so that participants have more time to digest, instead of presenting them only during the session.
Likewise, they should have encouraged the public to forward information or questions in advance so that answers could be better prepared and given during engagement sessions, instead of offering promises to look into problems raised.
In this way, everyone gets a chance to share their views, which could be collated and posted in the government agency’s website for transparency.
After a government agency has replied issues point by point, there is no need to revisit and discuss what has been previously addressed, unless basis have changed.
In most engagement sessions, participants would bring out perennial issues or those that have been solved, which was not surprising in the absence of information at websites of government agencies.
Such information could track the milestones of industries these government agencies oversee, but most seem to forget their roles are not just to regulate but also to facilitate.
As such, we have been running in circles or on-the-spot over the past decades in many areas, instead of making solid progress.
Key performance indicators (KPI) of government agencies should be based on the health of the industry, not on internal targets which are “syiok sendiri” exercise.
After the Dewan Negara session, Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi told reporters that he wants tourism industry players, especially those involved in providing transport services, to place the safety of domestic and foreign tourists at “optimum” level.
He said the responsibility should not only be placed with industry players but with all relevant local authorities and residents who live in tourist areas.
As for the recent bus accident involving 18 South Korean tourists in Kota Belud, Sabah, his ministry would leave it to the relevant authorities to investigate. If so, it would be business as usual.
But if we wish to raise the safety and security of tourists in this country, Motac must take the lead, starting on two fronts.
The first is to chair quarterly meetings involving relevant government agencies, tourism associations and individual experts.
The second is to conduct training for both public and private sectors on setting up contingency plans.
This is because hardly any government agencies or private corporations have set up contingency plans to deal with accidents or incidents, man-made or natural disasters, and staff trained to play crucial roles in minimizing injuries and controlling losses, which escalates by the second, minute and hour after disaster strikes.
Otherwise, the tragedy would be full blown by the time decisions are made at the top several hours or days later.
When setting up contingency plans, the working committee would have identified almost all the things that could possibly go wrong and would have recommended measures to prevent or minimise them.
Working out the standard operating procedures (SOP) to deal with disasters would also strengthen the SOP on routine matters. It requires many weeks of hard work and cannot be accomplished by wishful thinking.
The KPI of any organisation should not be based on easily achievable figures. Just like sloganeering, grandiose vision and mission statements sound hollow.
Achieving and maintaining standards set by International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is great but nothing better than setting up contingency plans and upgrading them annually, including training staff and educating customers on safety and security.

CY Ming,
Kuala Lumpur