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Security in Asia - Are we all doing enough ?

Travel News Asia 21 October 2002

Following the attacks on September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York, security has become more important than ever, and the word itself very fashionable, often used by companies wishing to be seen as proactive and concerned over your, our, security. Even after September 11, Asia, it could be said, was still confident in its own security, after all this was someone else's problem right ? Wrong, and the bomb blasts on October 12, 2002, in Bali proves that.

An idyllic island that has over the past years had more than its fair share of difficulties, an island that thrives for, and off tourism, an island that for anyone who has travelled to, or lived there, would never in their worst nightmares have imagined it, Bali, to be the home of terrorist activity killing hundreds and injuring hundreds of others with a bomb.

How this will affect tourism within the region is hard to say. We know that after the Bali bombing some airlines have been asking hotels in Thailand for additional room allotments, not just because of the immediate demand from people departing Bali but also as they view Thailand as not being 'part' of the terrorist problem. With Governments  however around the world now issuing harsh and far more visible travel advisories than before, against not just Indonesia but now blanketing the whole of Asia Pacific, which includes Thailand and most other Asia Pacific countries, the immediate prospects may not be too bright. Whether this blanketting of the entire region is justified, exaggerated, or whether it is more precautionary we do not really know, and we can only hope they are wrong.

But what exactly is security and are we really doing sufficient to minimise and deter ? Have we really looked into our security set up, and done everything within our power to build confidence among consumers, and minimise and deter, any potential risks to them and ourselves ? Have we tested the security set up internally to ensure it works ? Have staff been through additional training sessions to ensure that they are fully aware and up to date with emergency procedures ? 

We do know that we, within the travel industry, have been warned, we know that our customers have been warned - so what are we all going to do about it ? After all, this is a problem that could affect each and every one of us. Of course we cannot eliminate the problem ourselves, we cannot and should not guarantee to anyone that an event will not happen to 'us', but what we can do is deter, we can minimise the risk, we can give more confidence to our customers, to our paying guests, that we really do care, and that we really are proactive.

How can we do this ? We can have more visible signs of security at all major entrances and within establishments, metal detectors, and even x-ray machines can be used at hotels, restaurants, bars and other areas frequented by tourists. Bags should be checked, car parks at hotels and elsewhere should check every car in, and routine inspections should be carried out of all the cars within an immediate area of the establishment.

At one of the busiest bars in Bangkok at Siam Square, and one which is part of a well know International chain, and frequented mainly by westerners we asked staff what was being done, had additional security been hired ? were the cars outside being checked by sniffer dogs for potential explosives ? why were our bags not checked ? The reply we had was that no additional security personnel had been hired and that bags were only checked after 9:30pm.

It is not just the bar we mention above though, hotels and any tourist institutions in Asia need to seriously review their security, after all many hotels in Asia ask 'joiners' for their ID cards to help ensure the safety of guests but how many hotels could a well dressed man or lady simply get in a lift and go to any floor he/she chooses ? How many hotels could someone drive a car into the carpark and then leave through the front door of the hotel without any questions being asked ? The answers would surprise many. 

Of course you could argue that in today's technologically advanced world it is possible to make a bomb the size of a lighter, which could be easily concealed as something other than a bomb. While this may well be true, it does not give us an excuse to shy away from our responsibilities. We must build confidence within our customers and show them that not only do we want to be proactive, but that we are being proactive.

Most major hotels in Manila have for many years now had very high security in place, bags are checked and metal detectors are used on every person entering the hotel, it may be a nuisance to some, but it definitely builds your confidence in that establishment, and helps to make you feel safe in this new and uncertain world.

It is far too easy for firms of any description to say that they are concerned about our, the customers, security, but what we need is not words, but action.

If your hotel, agency, bar, building, company or whatever have acted and have increased security please let us know the measures you have put in place. What are you doing to deter and minimise the potential of terrorist activity and build confidence with your customers ? Let us know and we will feature them.

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