Ecotourism in Malaysia

Until the 1970s, tourism was not regarded as an important economic activity in Malaysia. The Tourism Development Corporation of Malaysia (TDC) was set up in 1972, with the responsibility to act as a development authority, but the sector was given a low priority. Dut partly to limited financial allocations, TDC faced constraints in the effective performance of its catalytic role.

As a result, Malaysia remained a relatively unknown destination, while other countries in the region such asSingapore, Thailand and Indonesia built on their established reputations as mass tourism destinations. During the 1980s, tourism became an increasingly important industry worldwide. Investment in new facilities and capital equipment reached around $US 350 million per year, representing 7. 3 per cent of total worldwide capital investments. Almost 6. 5 per cent of the world’s workforce were employed by the industry.

Among the main reasons for this growth were increased personal income and leisure time, improvement in international transportation systems and greater public awareness of other parts of the world due to improved communications. These developments were felt by Malaysia as well as other countries. Recognizing that tourism can playa role in economic and social development, as well as in fostering national integration and unity, the Malaysian government undertook a series of positive initiatives to stimulate the development of the tourism sector. These included the following: The government established the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (which became the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism in 1990). This provided an institutional framework for the planning, coordination, and regulation of tourism, and for the first time tourism was accounted for within the framework of recognized economic activities; By virtue of the Tourism Industry Act of 1992 and the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board Act of 1992, the new Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism took over from TOC the function of formulation and implementation of policies, licensing and enforcement aspects of the tourism industry.

TOC thereafter became known as the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (or Tourism Malaysia for short), with a role concentrated on marketing and promotion; The Investment Incentives Act was revised in 1986 to include the tourism sector, thereby giving additional stimulus to tourism investment, such as the Pioneer Status Investment Tax Allowance, Industrial Building Allowances, and tax exemption for large foreign group tours; In 1990, the federal government set up a Ringgit Malaysia (RM) 120 million special fund for tourism to stimulate its development, including small and medium scale enterprise.  During the Fourth and Fifth Malaysia Plans (1981-1985 and 1986-1990) significant attention was given to the tourism sector, with increased public allocations for marketing and promotional activities, infrastructure and product development. Expenditure was RM 125. 5 million under the Fourth Plan and RM 132. 1 million under Fifth Plan. The Fifth Plan period culminated in Visit Malaysia Year 1990, which generated a high international profile for Malaysia and attracted 7. 4 million tourists as well as revenues of RM 4. 5 billion.

Under the Sixth Malaysia Plan (1991-1995), the government therefore increased the public allocation for tourism development to RM 533. 9 million. This allocation has been used to provide and expand the physical and social infrastructure, facilities and services required to support the future growth of the tourism sector. Visitors have come to Malaysia for many years to see wildlife, scenery, forests and beaches. The numbers are very difficult to assess, except at a few sites such as Taman Negara and Kinabalu Park. There, the numbers have climbed steadily over the past 30 years.

The well-known sites are mainly large with multiple attractions, but they also include one or two places with a single major attraction, notably Rantan Abang in Terengganu with its turtles, or Rafflesia sites in Sabah. Some smaller sites have attracted fewer visitors, but are known internationally among a sector of the potential market. Examples include Fraser’s Hill and Kuala Selangor, both of which are of particular interest for birdwatchers and are now on the regular itineraries of some specialist and general tour companies.

Development allocation for tourism under the Fifth and Sixth Malaysia Plans (AM million. ) Fifth Plan (1986-1990) Sixth Plan (1991-1995) Allocation Preservation Beautification of national/historical and environmental heritage protection Tourist accommodation Cultural product development Facilities and infrastructure. The market in specialist adventure activities (four-wheel drive, microlight, whitewater rafting, etc. is more recent but is rapidly expanding. Most of these activities only marginally qualify as ecotourism when practiced in parucularly careful ways, and some are harmful to the environment. They are indicative of the conflicts that can arise between adventure tourism, nature-based tourism and ecotourism, both in objectives and practice. Despite the fact that some tourists have pursued activities that could be defined as ecotourism for manyyears, attention to this market component from the tourism sector itself has been slight.

Only a few tour operators have long and consistent records in ecotourism. Many others have sporadically explored this sector with varyingsuccess, low investment, and low expertise. Various reasons could be cited for their lack of success. Among the tour operators leading groups to Taman Negara are several very big companies, but as this is only a tiny part of theirtotal business and income, client dissatisfaction may have little influence upon the companies. Many ecotourism businesses remain small, or face difficulties in obtaining clientele and close down.

The situation for ecotourism in Malaysia is, therefore, very similar to the experience in many other countries. One difficulty in assessing progress in ecotourism is the shortage of reliable data. Tourist numbers as a whole are not easy to analyse and not much effort has yet been made to look at the ecotourism or nature-based tourism sector in particular. In 1994/95, for the first time Tourism Malaysia questionnaires included questions about whether tourist had visited Taman Negara, Bako National Park, Gunung Mulu National Park, the Niah Caves r Kinabalu Park. No statistics exist on how many visitors like to go fishing, mountain climbing or walking in the forest, nor are there detailed visitor profiles of different nationalities in relation to nature. Nevertheless, the number of tour operators interested in ecotourism or nature tourism and the number of individuals hoping to be ecotour or nature tour guides are increasing. Interest is also expressed through a number of workshop and seminars relating to ecotourism.

Recent examples are the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) Seminar on Nature Tourism as a Tool for Development and Conservation (Sabah, Malaysia, March 1994), the Seventh PATA Adventure Travel and Ecotourism Conference (Balikpapan, Indonesia, January 1995) the ESCAP Expert Group Meeting on Ecotourism and Development in Asia and the Pacific (Bali, Indonesia, March 1995) and the PATA Heritage Conference on Tourism: A Force for Conservation of Nature and Culture (Phuket, Thailand, September 1995). Two public exhibitions on nature-based and adventure tourism have been held in Kuala Lumpur.

A pilot training course for nature guides has been established, and the Malaysian Tourist Guides Council has arranged a tour guide refresher course with components on ecotourism and agrotourism. If as has been suggested, 7 per cent of travel worldwide is nature-related, then in 1994 Malaysia probably attracted 505,000 ecotourists from overseas. If, however, half of all non-ASEAN visitors to Sabah and Sarawak carry out some nature- or culture-related activity, there may have been as many as 571,000 ecotourist visiting Malaysia in 1994. Revenue would have been about RM 655 million.

Current Situation The main thrust of governmental policy on tourism is contained in the Tourism Policy Study by Peat Marwick(1992), together with materials in the Sixth Malaysia Plan, Mid-Term Review and the forthcoming Seventh MalaysiaPlan. Sarawak has a Second State Tourism Master Plan (1993) and the Sabah State Tourism Master Plan was completed in early 1996. 85 2. Expenditure Allocation Programme Table There are about 2,000 registered tour and travel agencies in Malaysia, and it is estimated that about 800 take bookings for travel to nature-related destinations.

However, many of these act only as intermediaries and pass on these bookings to a relatively small number of companies which deal with particular destinations. There are thought to be about 30 companies specialising in nature and ecotourism. There are about 3,500 registered tour guides, of whom the majority have full (general) guiding licences. A smaller number are specialized in specific skills. There is no detailed breakdown of the number of guides with guiding skills for each ecotourism activity, but a basic pool of resources is available in most fields.

Some Malaysian specialist guides are of international repute. Participation by non-government organisations in ecotourism is limited but increasing. There are a number of state, regional and national trade organisations and tourist guides’ associations which are beginning to investigate ecotourism and to provide training. So far, training courses have not been formalised. About 20 sites in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak account for the vast majority of ecotourism by overseas tourists. The same sites are visited by many Malaysian tourists.

Recreation by Malaysians in Peninsular Malaysia takes place in a network of Recreational (Amenity) Forests and a number of sites elsewhere in the forests. It is estimated that about 7 to 10 per cent of all overseas tourists are involved in ecotourism activities, while up to 14 per cent express an interest in walking, hiking and trekking. This amounts to about 512,000 to 1,024,000 overseas tourists per year. The number of Malaysians visiting the same sites is close to or exceeds the number of overseas tourists. The involvement of individuals from local communities is uneven.

At some sites (for example, Kinabalu Park) local residents are closely involved in guiding, staffing and gaining financial benefits from the park’s operation. Sites exist in which the local community forms a passive component of the tourism product. Sites also exist in which the local community has, in effect, been excluded from tourism development, but these are none of ecotourism developments. Where local residents are involved in ecotourism, there tends to be a shortage of training and management opportunities for them.

National Ecotourism Policy

The National Ecotourism Plan was developed to provide a more integrated approach to achieve specific national objectives, such as those contained in the Five Year Plans and other documents, within the field of ecotourism. It should contribute towards producing a more distinctive Malaysian tourism image and identity and contribute towards direct involvement of local populations, enhanced training, interagency and inter-sectoral cooperationand, most importantly, fostering environmental protection and preservation. This plan is in the process of adoption by the federal government.

The National Ecotourism Plan will include the following elements of implementation: adopt and promote a clear definition of ecotourism; adopt and promote a clear policy on developing ecotourism;  strengthen the Ecoand Agro-Tourism Implementation Committee;  implement legal changes to support implementation of the Plan; and  establish a monitoring and evaluation programme. The National Ecotourism Plan will include site planning and management. This includes actions to: Establish Establish planning procedures application for ecotourism developments; development; system of ecotourism areas; areas; rocedures management for ecotourism Expand and improve Elaborate Implement Establish Establish Establish of a nationwide  development guidelines and management for ecotourism; plans for ecotourism a series of pilot ecotourism additional ecotourism projects; products at Taman Negara and other sites; and promote a consistent marketing strategy; and ecotourism.

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