Dedicated to police tourist zones

Tourism police are a common sight in countries that are still building a tourism industry and where the sudden influx of foreign visitors might disturb the lifestyle of residents. They are also engaged in countries, such as Thailand, Bali and Uganda, where the locals culture and traditions vary greatly from those of foreign visitors and which, therefore, might lead to certain friction. Malta, on the other hand, boasts of a well-developed tourism industry. In 2015, a record 1.8 million tourists visited the island and about a quarter of a million are expected this August according to Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis. This success is also due to the fact that, apart from attractions and a good product, the Maltese islands have a unique selling point: the people s friendly and helpful disposition.

Despite this, the home affairs and tourism ministries have thought it fit to deploy tourism police who have all the powers and responsibilities of ordinary policemen with the added duty to inform visitors of tourism-related offences and be on the lookout for such infringements. Such officers will be patrolling tourism hotspots between 2pm and 2am in shifts of four and patrols have already been launched in Sliema and St Julian s. To be really effective, this group of dedicated officers, who were given special training at the Institute of Tourism Studies and at the Police Academy, need to realise their crucial role. Apart from protecting visitors, they are also expected to make a positive tourism image statement. In other words, those assigned tourism police duties have to be even better prepared as they would need to be instructed not just in security aspects but also the basics of tourism science.

The first issue that comes to mind in this regard is whether they should don the same uniform as regular policemen or have some sort of attire that immediately indicates they have a special job to do. Another point to ponder is that if increased incidents are being reported in tourism hotspots then what is required is a more robust presence by regular officers. Why there should be dedicated officers rather than a stronger presence of regular policemen might smack of a marketing gimmick. This especially if these men and women have been handpicked from the force itself rather than from outside, which would amount to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Second, if it was felt that members of the police force need training in dealing with tourism-related offences, then this should be given to all regular rather than just to the tourist police because, as we are often told by stakeholders and the tourism authorities, visitors are all over the island. The government is trying hard to instil a one-stop-shop mentality in an effort to be more effective in enforcing legislation and in easing the administrative burden. The deployment of tourism police risks further fragmenting such responsibilities into different silos. The Malta Tourism Authority has, for the past years, been promising more effective enforcement on a wide range of tourism and hospitality-related issues although, to date, not much has happened in this regard.

Will the advent of tourism police start to change that? Judging by what we know so far, one should not hold one s breath. Having said that, it would be unwise not to give this new band of officers some time to prove themselves. If it works, let s have more of them. If not, let s see why not and either take remedial action or drop the idea altogether.

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