News : Helpline 1111 or 1155?
Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2015 -- The Thai government has launched yet another hotline, this time 1111, to receive complaints from foreigners visitors or residents in Thailand.
The new help line is in addition to the existing 1155 Tourist Police Call Centre. There was no explanation why the country needed two help lines for the single task of assisting tourists in trouble.
It might suggest the Tourist Police line is unable to handle the volume, or there could be doubts that the Tourist Police are capable resolving issues efficiently.
However, in a press release announcing the new service the Tourism Authority of Thailand advised that in emergencies, foreigners should continue to use the Tourist Police service at 1155.
Inside no.1 TAT did not clarify what constitutes an emergency, but usually a call to the Tourist Police is often prompted by a crime or scam that creates a crisis for the visitor.
The 24-hour Tourist Police Call Centre claims to offer assistance to both tourists and foreign residents in Thailand.
There are interpreters on standby to handle emergency calls and in some cities the Tourist Police recruit foreigners as volunteers to assist officers.
For non-emergency matters, foreigners are advised to call 1111.
The centre, also available 24 hours and is staffed by representatives from 20 ministries to ensure prompt response to complaints.
According to the TAT press release, pressing cases that are beyond the centre’s jurisdiction will be referred to the respective government agencies.
Complaints received will be coordinated through the centre to related government agencies, state enterprises, and non-governmental organisations.
The government plans to expand the 1111 centre’s cover to Thai embassies in the ASEAN region soon.
The move is part of a government review of all safety measures, but there is not evidence of any checks and balances to ensure the service works and is a useful channel to improve safety and deal with problems.
There is also considerable duplication in so-called tourist help centres. Both TAT and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports have help desks at Suvarnabhumi Airport in addition to the Tourist Police.
Even in small airports such as Chiang Rai, there is a Ministry of Tourism and Sports centre with three staff and it is doubtful if they have more than a couple of enquiries a day if any.
There is also a Tourist Police office close by, usually with a sign posted on the window of the empty cubicle identifying the officer in charge, who is absent. Officers are more likely to be found sitting at a nearby tea shop, but that nugget of information is not mentioned in the window notice.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports does not provide updates on how its assistance centres operate to show their cost effectiveness, but they are over staffed.
A quarterly report on their performance and the kind of assistance they offered would add transparency and indicate to the public if the service is worth the investment. Most of the assistance and help centres were responses to a crisis such as the Bangkok flood in 2012 or the earlier tsunami in South Thailand. Government agencies had to show they were responding to a crisis but once it had passed the centres were considered busy if a couple of tourists visited the centre to obtain a city map.
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The ministry will, of course,claim staff are busy every day serving hundreds of tourists, but as they provide little or no feedback on the monthly visits and nature of the assistance provided the media is left to guess just what those people do all day sitting in airport gold-fish bowls. What we can be sure of is duplication of costs and resources.
Duplication confuses visitors, but it makes for excellent PR. It creates new versions so officials can gain another round of publicity to show they are achieving results, The media is not expected to return six months later and ask; "did it work, did you help any tourists?"
Once a service has been introduced, there is little accountability or assessment to indicate results.. The staff are almost forgotten, or from time-to-time they might be called to meet-and-greet a VIP from Bangkok. They may even get to stand in line while the minister makes a cursory tour. Catch the minister’s attention, it might be a passport out of the gold-fish bowl of boredom and the start of a real career in tourism.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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