25 Jan, 2017
Singapore: The theme of this year’s 36th ASEAN Tourism Forum in Singapore was “Shaping Our Tourism Journey Together.” If the discourteous behaviour I experienced at the ASEAN tourism ministerial press conference is any indicator, that lofty pursuit of togetherness came with a few exceptions.
Media management of the ATF 2017 in Singapore was vastly different from all the previous ATFs. It included an unprecedented requirement for media to be pre-registered for the tourism ministers press conference. Just being registered for the ATF Travex did not automatically grant media entry to the ministerial event.
Such pre-registration has NEVER been required at past ATFs. Once handed over at the opening, the media badge gives accredited journalists, both hosted and non-hosted, access to all ATF-related events, except those specifically described as being closed.
I was not part of the ATF 2017 hosted media contingent. I missed the application deadline. So be it. But because the ATF is important event, I didn’t mind paying my own way.
I was approved as non-hosted media, and emailed information about the events I could attend. That’s routine. All other information required me to download an app. Being of the old school, I struggle with this technological gadgetry and could not access it.
I was not given a choice.
On 20 January, a few hours before the ministers media conference at the Pan Pacific hotel, I inquired at the ATF media centre at Marina Bay Sands about transport to the Pan Pacific. The lady there spoke to someone on the phone and told me that pre-registration for the media conference was now closed.
I thought that was a bit unusual, but felt that as I was a registered ATF Travex media delegate, a little flexibility would be shown and I would be able to register as a walk-in. I made my own way to the Pan Pacific and got there about 30 minutes earlier.
The STB staff arrived just then and began setting up the registration desk. I asked if I could register as a walk-in. The staffer asked if I had pre-registered. I said no. She said only pre-registered media were being allowed in.
I didn’t see the point. It was certainly not a space problem; the ballroom can handle several hundred people. Neither did it appear to be a security issue; there was no other visible security presence anywhere else.
I asked Eddy Krismedi, the chief tourism coordinator at the ASEAN secretariat, to speak to someone. He said he didn’t think he would be able to help. He came along anyway, spoke to someone and left without reverting.
A few minutes later, the media corps starts filtering in. The Thai media group was escorted by a Tourism Authority of Thailand officer. They were all pre-registered by the TAT, handed the press kits and fitted with wristbands, also a first for an ATF.
One of my Thai colleagues saw me waiting, and asked why. I told her they were not letting in non-registered media. She looked puzzled, and asked the TAT officer to help. The TAT officer turned to me and asked what was the problem. I told her. She said she would try and help.
She spoke to the STB staff at the registration desk, but was told non-registered media would not be allowed in. She came back and told me that, and also informed my Thai journalist colleague, who was quite taken aback.
As the Thai media had received their press kits, I asked my Thai colleague if I could just have a look at hers.
She said sure, and handed it over. I told her I would photograph the contents and return it. She told me to go ahead.
As I was doing so, two Singapore Tourist Board staff come over, one of them a junior person and the other clearly her senior.
The senior one asks me, “How can I help you?” I tell her I don’t need any.
Just then, the junior one snatches the press release away from the table as I was photographing it.
The senior one demands to know what I am doing.
I told her it has nothing to do with her and they have no right to snatch the press release which has already been distributed to the media.
She demands to know where I got it from. I told her it belongs to my Thai colleague.
She then turns to my Thai colleague to verify it, which she does.
The STB officer then has the audacity to ask my Thai colleague if she has given me permission to photograph it.
My Thai colleague nods.
Having lost face, the STB staffer sheepishly gives the press kit back to me but continues to hover around as I resume photographing it.
She tells me I don’t need to do that as they can send me a soft copy later.
I tell her to go do something else. She then tells she knows me and has seen me at previous ATFs.
Instead of apologising for the uncivil behaviour that clearly crossed a line, she starts lecturing me about how “we can settle the whole matter in a gentlemanly and calm manner”.
I tell her the junior staffer had no right to snatch the press release in the first place and that she should be ashamed of herself.
She replies, “We will try and do better next time.”
To which I responded, “I certainly hope so.”
I finished photographing the press kit, and waited for a few minutes to see if they would have a change of mind.
Figuring it would be no use to wait around any further, I left.
This entire episode took place in the foyer of the ballroom on the second floor of the Pan Pacific Singapore. As there would have been CCTV cameras, its accuracy can be verified word for word.
The lofty theme of the ATF 2017 was “Shaping our Tourism Journey Together.”
Apparently, that togetherness did not include media who had not pre-registered for the tourism ministers conference.
Eddy Krismedi has the decency to apologise
On 25 January, Eddy Krismedi sent me an email to apologise. He said:
I took note the situation that you have experienced during press conference of ATF 2017 in Singapore recently. I regret to inform you that I didn’t manage to provide assistance in supporting your participation in the press conference.
I understand that you may have disappointment. The ATF is independently convened and organised by host country. ASEAN Secretariat has not much involvement in its operation other than government meetings. I received also concerns from other participants regarding ATF 2017 which I could use it as input for future ATFs.
Hope you would understand the situation.