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LETTER | SOPs needed to improve safety in light of tourist deaths

LETTER | While tourists naturally prefer cleanliness, convenience, and comfort, tourism operators ought to ensure the health, safety, and security of their customers.

But sadly, too many people lack safety consciousness, unaware of noticeable hazards and oblivious to hidden dangers.

Hence, “Safety and Security of Tourists” is an important module in the “Travel and Tours Enhancement Course”, which tour operators must attend before they can renew their company’s operating licence with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture (Motac).

On Sept 4, a foreign tourist drowned while eight others were rescued after their boat capsized off Sabah’s east coast near Timba-Timba Island not far from Semporna, Sabah.

Four men were investigated under Section 304A of the Penal Code for causing death by negligence.

Earlier in July, there was another drowning incident involving foreign tourists off Kudat, 580km north of Semporna by road. So far, more than 13 cases of accidents involving tourists have been reported in Sabah.

Concerned, Motac minister Tiong King Sing held a special meeting recently to discuss safety measures.

In attendance were representatives from Motac, Sabah Tourism, Culture, and Environment Ministry (KePKAS), Sabah police, Sabah and Labuan Marine Department, the Semporna district office, and the Sabah Tourism Board.

Relevant government agencies are likely to step up their roles in enhancing tourist safety, but the gamechanger falls on service providers.

Many claim to practise safety first but without planning, implementation, operations, monitoring, and timely revisions, it is safety last.

Hence, the quantum leap forward would be the day when tourism operators are required to submit to relevant authorities their standard operating procedures (SOPs) for routine matters and contingency plans, which are also SOPs, but for managing emergencies and incidents.

Granted, writing down and adhering to SOPs is no easy task, and even more difficult to prepare contingency plans, as what could possibly go wrong must first be identified before solutions are found to handle emergencies, accidents, and incidents.

It requires setting up a working committee of between four to eight persons to brainstorm and later present their findings to the top management for evaluation and advice.

This will involve many rounds of presentation and amendment before the contingency plans are finally ready.

The entire process could possibly take a few weeks for small businesses to several months for larger organisations.

But the strenuous exercise will be worthwhile, as operators are forced to examine thoroughly how their services are to be provided with safety and security in place.

Apart from more efficient and smoother operations, customers could also choose organisations with contingency plans, knowing they have thought out all the possibilities that can go wrong and have taken measures to prevent or minimise them.

Should anything untoward happen, they are ready to handle it by containing the disaster and minimising damage or injury.

It may take a decade for the tourism industry to be ready before making it compulsory for all tourism operators to submit their SOPs, including contingency plans, to Motac for scrutiny. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

For a start, it can be on a voluntary basis and those that have done so can be recognised under a star rating safety system.

Tourism operators can then publicise on their websites that they have contingency plans in place plus the star rating given by Motac as additional selling points.

In 2018, I conducted “Contingency Plans Workshops” in Kota Kinabalu before conducting them in Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents.

Many experienced and competent tour operators could also conduct these workshops nationwide.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.