Malaysia is one of those ecotourism gems, with a wealth of biodiversity and a dedicated group of ecotourism holiday makers flocking to both parts of the country for an exceptional experience with nature. Borneo usually gets all the credit when it comes to ecotourism in Malaysia, but Peninsular Malaysia is just as exciting, with places like the Cameron Highlands and Langkawi Island. However, due to its rapid development, Peninsular Malaysia has had to be extremely conscious about just how sustainable their ecotourism industry really is.
Malaysia’s National Ecotourism Plan, prepared by the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Tourism in 1997, demonstrates the breadth of government involvement in ecotourism in Malaysia. Four other national ministries are key actors in Malaysia’s ecotourism industry, including those responsible for wildlife, marine, and forestry management.
Nature tourism is a significant part of Malaysia’s ecotourism industry, and in recent years, conservation has been the primary focus of those involved in the industry. There was a time, in the 1990s, where ecotourism activities were the only priority, and as such, environmental conservation was not a concern, straining destinations, like Payar Island, to a point well beyond their carrying capacities. Coral reefs were damaged, leaving the island ‘sick’, and in desperate need of care and strong tourism regulations. Marine tourism is perhaps one of the most threatened of all the ecotourism areas of Malaysia, and faces a number of issues if it is to operate environmentally and sustainably.
Malaysia does, however, have some excellent examples of sustainable tourism. The Matang Mangrove Forest in Perak is widely acknowledged to be one of the most successful instances of sustainable tourism management in Malaysia. Designated a Permanent Forest Reserve in 1906, the local community is constantly involved in consulting efforts with regards to the forest, and despite becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region, the forest remains sustainably managed by the Forestry Department.
Local Involvement in Tourism
Another curious element of Malaysia’s ecotourism industry is its local population, since research has demonstrated that although they like to vacation domestically in sun and sea resorts, rather than at a sustainable eco-resort or national park. Because of this, eco-resorts are far less desirable to build because most Malaysians will forgo it in favour of a standard beach resort. If the locals aren’t interested in staying in eco-resorts, are they even interested in being involved in ecotourism? According to studies, community-based tourism is less prevalent here than in similar destinations, however there is significant potential for locals to be more involved with the project development process, rather than just providing services, cultural handicrafts, and low-wage work.
Ecotourism in Malaysia
Ecotourism in Malaysia is a conflicted industry, because while it is lucrative and attractive to foreign tourists, it has also proven to have potentially harmful impacts on the local residents and environments. While it has taken negative impacts, like environmental degradation, the government and tourism community in Malaysia have become increasingly aware that not only are sustainable tourism management and development crucial to the future success and conservation of the environment and industry, but that community-focused tourism is elemental in the cultural and socio-economic enrichment of the local communities. Malaysia has the tools to make tourism a more positive industry, and has the potential to enjoy great success in this area.
Photo Credit: Olga Oslina