Malaysia’s eco-tourism industry benefitting from sustainable development commitment


Gayana Eco Resort is an excellent example of eco-tourism development that is holistic yet profitable.Gayana Eco Resort is an excellent example of eco-tourism development that is holistic yet profitable.

By P. Shavin

In my article last week, I elaborated on how the sustainable development movement was gaining traction in Malaysia.

However, World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) Executive Director/CEO, Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma has a word of caution.

He says various development plans to drive Malaysia towards becoming a developed nation by 2020 must go hand-in-hand with sustainable management of the country’s natural resources and biodiversity conservation.

“Climate change will continue to feature prominently on our conservation agenda in 2013. WWF-Malaysia as the national conservation trust will work with the private and public sectors to locally reduce our national carbon footprint and advocate for the development of renewable energy,” he said.

Sharma said that financial institutions also play a key role in developing a low carbon economy.

“We hope that 2013 and onwards, financial institutions will attach sustainability criteria to their lending and investment conditions, especially with regard to natural resource extraction activities in the forest and oil palm sectors. This would have huge pay-offs for the planet,” he added.

But sustainable development is more than just finding renewable resources to draw on.

The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers to the “interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars” of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.


Eco-tourism boom


One area that has embraced sustainable development is the eco-tourism industry. According to Malaysian Nature Society’s head of communications Andrew Sebastian, it is crucial for emerging nations to look at sustainable development as part of its formula for growth.

“Not only do you meet your KPI (for growth), but it also shows that you are forward thinking, looking at the future,” he said when contacted by Business Circle.

There are several factors that need to be taken into account for sustainable development, says Andrew.

These include developing or sustaining something without affecting the local work and environment; developing a microeconomy that does not harm the ecosystem in a way that could impact the lives of the local community that is interdependent on it; and most of all, whatever activity that is being considered must be sustainable, and certified to be so.

Toward this end, he said eco-tourism in the country has shown rapid growth potential besides meeting all the targets of sustainable development.

“Eco-tourism in Sabah is a case in point. Tourism is now the 2nd biggest income earner in the state, and expected to bring in even more in the future. More and more people are getting excited about it as it is good for business and feeds into the local community and helped to conserve the environment,” he said.

He pointed to Gayana Eco Resort at Malohom Bay, Gaya Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park as an excellent example of development that is holistic yet profitable.

“The room are, like RM2,000 a night but they are doing great business; they have won awards and are popular with tourists who come because they like the way the whole set up is, how the local community is involved, and the conservation efforts they undertake, and which tourists are allowed to participate in. It works,” said Andrew.

He also points to the growing popularity of Homestay programmes, such as the one in Kampung Sg Sireh in Tanjung Karang in the peninsular and those in Sabah and Sarawak.

The homestays, such as the one in Sg Sireh, allow tourists to take part in traditional activities such as padi harvesting, rod fishing and fruit plucking.

As for homestays in Sabah, Andrew says though it is fairly new, the feedback has been extremely encouraging as a business and a marketing tool for the state and its many native tribes.

These, he says, are very good examples of how you can create a renewable cycle that is profitable, equitable, and most of all, does not degrade the environment.

Sustainable development is not just a meaningless tag, but one that all countries must incorporate into their development framework going forward.



Photo credit: Gayana Eco Resort

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