Tourism police, an idea whose time has come

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Still image of a video clip that captured a crime scene in a street of Hanoi last year in which a man (wearing a baseball cap) snatches an umbrella from a foreign woman while his accomplice is waiting on a bike

Tourists are threatened by robbers and harassed by hawkers, nobody takes responsibility for this, and Vietnam's tourism image takes a beating, Vu The Binh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, tells Vietweek, and the only solution is establishing a tourism police force.

Vietweek: The problem with petty thieves and aggressive vendors has become serious, threatening the safety of visitors. What do you think about setting up a tourism police force to deal with these problems?

Vu The Binh: The harassment of tourists has recently become serious, mainly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This distorts Vietnam's tourism image, affecting its claim of being "a safe and friendly destination" which we have been proud of. The government should take measures to resolve the problem.

At many meetings to discuss measures to deal with it, delegates said the main reason for the problem is that nobody takes responsibility for the safety of tourists.

In principle, authorities take responsibility for security in their localities. But the laws do not spell out their specific responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of tourists. So many cases have not been fully resolved and nobody takes responsibility for them.

So we need to establish a tourism police force to take responsibility for tourists' safety. Many people say that the tourism sector should take responsibility for the issue. But the sector does not have guns to protect visitors, and tourist guides are not policemen. That claim is unrealistic.

Countries like Thailand and Malaysia have had tourist police for a long time, and they are effective. In many other countries, the tourism police have played a key role in tourism development. It therefore makes sense that we set up the force to ensure the security and safety of tourists. They will have the responsibility of protecting visitors at major tourism sites.

Establishing a tourism police force means the government makes a commitment to tourists to protect them when they visit Vietnam. Petty thievery and aggressive hawking will reduce. If they occur, they will be taken care of by the tourism police.

In fact, when drafting the Tourism Law in 2004, the Vietnam Administration of Tourism proposed a tourism police, but many agencies did not agree with this. So the establishment of a police force was not regulated under the law. In a recent survey of over 1,000 travel agencies, 90 percent said Vietnam should set up a tourism police force.

Each locality has a police force for protection, and each tourism site has hotlines for visitors to complain about problems. Moreover, police numbers will swell enormously if each industry needs a police force for protection. Should we consider other ways to protect visitors instead of setting up a tourism police force?

We used to discuss 5-6 years ago if we really need an environment police. It was set up and has become indispensable for environmental protection. The tourism police would be the same. The number of visitors to Vietnam could increase if we announce the formation of the police force.

Now, local authorities have to take responsibility for the safety of visitors, but they do not do it. So we have to find ways to ensure visitors' safety, and establishing the tourism police is the best measure. If local authorities are too weak to protect visitors, we need to have a tourist police force. We should not ignore visitors just because we may have too many police officers.

The tourism sector plays an important role in the country's economic development. There are provinces like Thua Thien-Hue where tourism makes up 48 percent of the economy. Obviously, setting up a tourism police force is very necessary.

Will the tourism police be able to completely resolve the current problems?

The increasing incidence of extortion and fraud against visitors indicate the poor management by local authorities of tourism sites. Authorities pass the buck to each other and nobody takes responsibility. Recently Hanoi authorities investigated and dealt with fraud by taxi drivers in demanding fares. Some drivers have had the book thrown at them. But they could not deal with all cases. We need to establish a force to do it. The force could work with local authorities to ensure visitors' safety.

Last month Hanoi established a center to assist tourists. It has received hundreds of suggestions from visitors. But the center only receives information; it does not deal with cases like robbery.

Is there no other way to resolve the problem without creating a tourism police force?

No, there is no other way except establishing a tourism police to ensure visitors' safety. We would not need the police if localities commit to the government that their leaders will resign if visitors fall prey to theft or fraud. But I do not think any locality will commit this. So establishment of a tourism police is the best measure.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan, at a meeting with the tourism sector, said he has ordered the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and other relevant agencies to study and submit to the government a proposal for creating a tourism police force. But implementation of his instruction seems to be slow.

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