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Published: Sunday December 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday December 29, 2013 MYT 7:44:21 AM

Travelling around safely

Safety and security of a location is an important consideration, travellers say.

AN avid diver, Adeline Teoh had originally planned to go diving at Mabul Island, Sabah, early next year with some friends. However, her plans may have to change.

“After the recent Semporna incident, my parents are a bit worried, and they’re discouraging me from going. I still want to go though and was joking that now might be the best time to go diving there with the heightened security,” says Teoh, 30, a sales manager in a pharmaceutical company.

Last month, Malaysia made world headlines for the wrong reason when Taiwanese tourist Hsu Li Min, 57, was killed and his wife Chang An Wei, 58, was abducted by armed men at the Pom Pom Island Resort, a 45-minute boat ride from Semporna, Sabah.

Teoh, who feels Mabul is less secluded than Pom Pom Island, says: “We always see the police patrolling the waters and there are more dive shops there compared to Pom Pom.”

Don’t be mistaken though – safety and security are very important factors for Teoh as a traveller.

“Safety is an important issue for me, especially if I’m on my own. I do read up about the places I’m visiting, and research on where I’ll be staying. You can get a pretty good idea (of what a place is like) by reading reviews or comments written by other travellers,” says Teoh, who has travelled to the United States, various parts of Europe, Canada, Taiwan, Nepal, Oman, Jordan, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.

Teoh says she’s felt safest while travelling in Germany, Austria, Nepal and Taiwan.

“I think it’s the people, and the fact that crime rates in these countries are low. In Nepal, for example, I felt the people were genuinely honest. They were not rude or disrespectful towards women. As for Taiwan, I feel perfectly comfortable going about on my own ... people there are very civilised.

“In Germany, people will tell you it’s okay to go about on your own and take a taxi, even after midnight,” she says.

At the other end of the spectrum, Teoh says South Africa, Prague and Rome don’t give her very good vibes. “It’s a feeling, and it’s also based on what you hear from the tour operators and fellow travellers. I’ve been quite fortunate (to have never been mugged or attacked), but when I was in Rome, a fellow traveller was molested,” she says.

Another seasoned traveller, singer-songwriter Wong Ping Loong, 35, plans to go on an “open-ended land trip” around Malaysia in the first half of next year.

“I first learned the joys of ‘open-ended’ land travel four years ago when I was living in Hong Kong. I crossed the border into Shenzhen, and travelled around China by train for a month, ending up in Dalian. There’s something very inspiring about being on the road and seeing the changes in scenery as they pass. It also means more thinking time and more opportunities to meet local people on the journey.

“For Malaysia, if the opportunity arises, I might find a way to East Malaysia. At the moment, I’m planning to travel solo, or with a couple of fellow musicians if I can find them,” he says.

For him, safety is important too.

“I guess safety is in the preparation. I try to read more about a country before hand, and I try to talk to locals in terms of the street smarts.

“But sometimes, feeling safe might not correlate with how safe a place actually is. For example, I spent three weeks in South Africa, and overall, I had quite a pleasant experience. But I did meet fellow tourists who were mugged at gunpoint. I just returned from Myanmar and I felt safe throughout the one-month trip although there are many who perceive it as unsafe,” says Wong. Wong is thankful that he has not faced too many safety issues while travelling, but has a few stories to share.

“In Egypt a ‘security guard’ at a tourist spot took a photo for a friend and I but refused to return our camera until we had given him some money. He had a sub-machine gun so we didn’t want to argue. I’ve also had my camera cut off from my neck while in a flower market in China.

“I’ve been pick-pocketed twice in Germany and Greece and chased by a gang in a Manila slum. Thankfully, though, no one has ever gone after my guitar – that would have broken my heart more than (if they had taken) my wallet,” he laughs.

As for Malaysia, Wong says his friends have warned him that “crime has been getting worse”.

“I suppose it means I should be more vigilant but a strong and visible police presence at tourist spots is always comforting,” he says.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt for tourists to be more vigilant and for heightened police presence, especially with 28 million tourist arrivals targeted for Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY2014).

Despite the recent incident in Semporna, various stakeholders from within the tourism industry remain optimistic that VMY2014 will not be affected.

Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) president Datuk Mohd Ilyas Zainol Abidin believes the Semporna incident is an isolated one, and should not have much impact on VMY2014.

“Security has always been very important for all our members and most hotels are improving on their security cameras. We have periodic meetings with the police to update them if there’s anything unusual happening in our areas. We welcome better police surveillance, but increased police presence can work both ways – if there are too many uniformed police in an area, it can create a negative perception among tourists as well. What is needed is a good balance,” he says.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Hamzah Rahmat agrees.

“The Semporna incident won’t affect VMY2014, because it’s an isolated case at an isolated location. Tourist arrivals to that part of Malaysia are too negligible to have any impact overall.

“The visibility of our tourist police is greatly needed in major towns, especially in KL. Otherwise, our security is generally at an acceptable level,” he says.

Tags / Keywords: Travel, travel, safety, tourism, VMY2014

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