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|Malaysia: linking tourism to conservation|
|Tuesday, 05 June 2012 10:47|
The 2012 Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Annual Conference, held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, highlighted the development of the tourism sector in both Malaysia and at the global level.
The event was officiated by the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. One of the key points covered was the increasing share of the global tourist market in the Asia and Pacific areas, estimated to rise from 22% in 2011 to 30% in 2030. The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) forecast further indicated that international tourist arrivals will increase to 1.8 billion by 2030; with the Asia and Pacific areas gaining the most of the new arrivals. Accordingly, Malaysia recorded 24.7 million tourists in 2011, as compared to only seven million tourists in 1999. This figure in itself is an illustration of the importance of tourism sector to the national Gross National Income (GNI). The tourism sector is expected to contribute RM 103.6 billion in GNI for the country by 2020.Pond at Bukit Cahaya Sri Alam Agricultural Park in Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia Image source: Auswandern Malaysia
In the same month, the Perak State Secretary Office organised the International Seminar on Biodiversity and Tourism in Perak, Malaysia, in conjunction with Visit Perak Year 2012. The event was organised in collaboration with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Centre for Innovative Planning and Development (CiPD). The event brought together experts on biodiversity conservation and ecotourism to discuss related issues.
‘Ecotourism’ is defined as a form of tourism focusing on the pristine protected areas of a country’s natural envrionment. Ecotourism’s aim is to be as low-impact to these (often very fragile) locations as possible. It is usually conducted on a small scale, as an alternative to standard commercial (mass) tourism. Furthermore, its purpose and outreach may include environmental education, conservation fundraising, or to contribute to the region’s economic development and the political empowerment of local communities. It can also be utilised to foster respect for different cultures and for human rights and to ensure that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention.
It was acknowledged that the key concern for nature tourism is visitor satisfaction through a quality experience and environmentally positive outcomes through conservation and protection of biodiversity. Mass tourism and volume of visitation are hence considered to be the major threat and constraint to a quality experience. Many pristine areas are ‘loved to death’, with the loss of biodiversity as one of the biggest challenges. Tourism hence needs to confront visitation pressures to maintain biodiversity and achieve sustainability. There is as such a need to address marine biodiversity challenges - and the need for proactive, constructive engagement of the relevant stakeholders.
The International Seminar on Biodiversity and Tourism was hence timely, as it focused on how Malaysia could leverage on its biodiversity hotspots to increase yield from ecotourism without compromising protection and preservation of the environment. The seminar largely emphasised on the capability for sustainable tourism in biodiversity conservation. This can be achieved by providing economic alternatives for local communities, creating revenue streams to support conservation activities, and building constituencies that support conservation priorities. Such constituencies expose tourists and the local communities to the value of protecting unique natural ecosystems using sustainable ecotourism principles and integrated environmental management plans, especially in protected areas. Among the tools suggested for tourism management include Carrying Capacity (though this method is now touted as being outdated by environmental managers), the Limits of Acceptable Change, and Recreational Opportunity Spectrum.
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