The International Tourist & Traveller Association (ITTA) will shortly introduce electronic wristbands for all tourists visiting certain Asian countries so that their identity and whereabouts can be regularly checked to ensure they are not in danger.
Consular officials from participating countries will be present at international airports to hand out the wristbands to all inbound travellers and then retrieve them when the tourist leaves the country. Tourists can choose from a range of colours, including orange, purple, pink, and a special edition emoji version.
“Many package tour groups already fit their passengers with badges for enhanced control,” said McDaniel Pham, general secretary of ITTA. “This is just a high-tech extension of that scheme to cover individual travellers as well.” Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are natural places to begin the scheme, Pham explained, as their high penetration of Wi-Fi and 3G enables real-time capture of data from the wristbands.
“It may be difficult for tourists in Asia to find competent help on the ground,” Pham said. “But the Wi-Fi networks, plus sophisticated software, can often determine whether a tourist may be in the wrong place, or in trouble, for example, if they have been immobile for an extended period.” The software can even detect if the wristband has been damaged or removed.
The Pilot Scheme
Such a scheme has already been approved for the Thai tourist island of Phuket, with Digital Economy and Society Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj saying it would be of benefit to tourists involved in “untoward incidents” which may include falling prey to social evils, or intoxication. If, for example, a tourist has not returned to their designated destination by an agreed-on time, investigations could be set in motion, potentially including land, sea and air units.
ITTA is currently canvassing many other regions across Southeast Asia to join the scheme. Eventually, the networks could be integrated, according to Pham, so that even tourists travelling to multiple Asian destinations can be tracked throughout their trip.
One concern that has been raised by critics of the scheme are issues of privacy and so-called Big Brother snooping.
These are groundless, Pham emphasised, as the information collected will only be used by a small group of relevant government officials. He also mentions the Apple Find My iPhone software that is built in iPhones. This does something similar to the wristbands, as do tracking apps which are now being widely used in the West.
“Our intention is that nobody outside the various police and militia forces, or interior ministry departments, will be able to view the information,” he said. “We regard the privacy of the individual as paramount.”