Vietnam tourist police: overdue measure or just another copout?

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Hanoi proposal to set up tourist police force slammed as ill-conceived, wasteful


Street vendors pester foreign tourists in Hue. The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has been asked by its department in Hanoi to establish a police force that specializes in protecting tourists in the capital city.

Authorities in the capital city of Hanoi  have proposed establishing a special police force charged with maintaining tourist security but experts said such a force would be ineffective, calling the plan wasteful.

Nguyen Van My, chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Lua Viet Tours, said such a force would be costly, but unproductive.

"The system is already bulky and inflated it will only increase the burden on taxpayers," he said. "Will the tourist police specialize in protecting tourists exclusively? When dealing with thieves and pickpockets, will they stop to make sure the victims are tourists before pursuing the suspects?"

Last week, the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism proposed setting up the force following a slew of widely reported cases involving foreign tourists being ripped off in the capital city.

In its proposal to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the agency said it had been unable to improve tourist security because there is no policy allowing its inspectors to operate in a specialized manner.

Mai Tien Dung, deputy director of Hanoi tourism department, said: "The tourism authorities do not have the authority to handle the cases of tourists being hassled or ripped off. Meanwhile, responsible agencies do not pay enough attention to this issue."

"I think a tourist police force is necessary to focus on preventing tourists from being harmed."

At a meeting last week, Nguyen Duy Ngoc, deputy director of the Hanoi Police Department, said forming a tourist police force was a good idea and that his agency would be ready to carry it out if it receives government approval.

However, the proposal has already attracted a hailstorm of criticism over its feasibility. Others say it amounts to nothing more than a copout for the police and tourism authorities.

My said maintaining tourist security is a task for the regular police force and that special tourist police would not be armed with "magic wands" with which to solve the problem.

"The heads of the local [police] agencies should clarify their responsibilities concerning incidents which threaten the safety of tourists in their area."

He said if the government allows Hanoi to set up the tourist police, "It would create a mess when other sectors ask for their own specialized police forces."

He criticized tourism authorities for blaming on the lack of tourist police whenever the public and media brought attention to the rampant mistreatment of tourists.

"Hoi An and Da Nang do not have tourist police but their security is very good and there are nearly no such cases," he said.

Tim Russel, a Briton who lived and worked in Vietnam for 10 years and is now the director of sales and marketing for the Remote Lands travel agency in Thailand, says he is not convinced that tourist police would be of much help.

"The admission that Vietnam needs security police is embarrassing, but it also shows that people are finally starting to accept that the country has a big problem, which is a step in the right direction.

"Provided they are friendly, effective and not corrupt, the tourist police idea is a good one - however the chances of them being helpful and honest are very slim," he said.

According to Russell, other ways to improve tourist security are to educate people involved in tourism services about the long-term negative effects of scamming and theft; the damage it does to Vietnam's image; and to publicly shame and punish those who exploit tourists.

Nguyen Minh Man, spokesperson of the Vietravel tourism company, said the presence of tourist police would make tourists feel safer.

"But they cannot ensure their safety outside tourist destinations, where most of the troubles occur," he admitted.

Robert Hawks, an American who has been in Vietnam for more than 15 years, said a tourism police force is certainly a good and long overdue idea but there remain many unanswered questions about how such a force would operate.

"Would they have the motivation and authority to be proactive rather than merely reactive?

"For example, would this force have the motivation and authority control the aggressive vendors, beggars and xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers who constantly harass tourists? Would they have the authority to clear the Filipino card scammers from the parks and the fake taxis from the markets? Could they and would they be able to control the insane traffic in central District 1 by forcing drivers to yield to pedestrians in the cross walks and keep people from driving on the sidewalks (especially around Vincom Plaza and Pasteur Street), two things which terrorize tourists?"

He said the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism should listen to what foreign tourists are saying about their Vietnam experience and tailor the tourism police force's mandate accordingly.

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"If Vietnam would establish a proper tourist police force that addresses the current problems, this would go a long way in promoting the country as a tourist destination. Word of mouth about a good and safe trip is the best possible promotion in the information age."

Le Van Cuong, former director of the Institute of Strategy and Science under the Ministry of Public Security, said tourist police would do little to improve the tourist situation and that the provincial People's Committee chairman and the director of the tourism department should be responsible for any troubles tourists encounter.

"Tourism authorities should amend their role instead of proposing a new police force. What if the markets propose setting up "˜market police' to fix the problems that take place at markets?"

DA NANG IMPROVES TOURISM SECURITY

In Da Nang, five agencies the Order Police Division, 115 Emergency Medical Service, Market Management Agency, Transport Department Inspection Division and the Aviation Security Center now coordinate to support tourist safety in the central beach city.

The Aviation Security Center supports tourists as soon as they disembark from planes, while the transport inspectors are available to help tourists on the streets.

"With this coordination, tourists can report about service quality and prices, as well as receive support in case they become the victims of accidents, robberies, hassling street vendors or extortion schemes," Nguyen Thi Hoai An, director of Da Nang Tourists Support Center, was quoted on the government website as saying.

"Additionally, these agencies supply tourists with information and consultation, as well as issue publications aimed at ensuring a "˜safe and civilized' environment for tourists who visit Da Nang," she said.

The city's Order Police Division has also established a new tourist hotline: 0511 3 893 400, in addition to the normal emergency number: 113.

About 900,000 tourists came to Da Nang in the first four months this year, of which 280,000 were foreigners. More than 290,000 tourists visited Da Nang in April alone, a 13 percent increase over last year.

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