BEIJING: Striking a balance between tourism sector growth and environmental protection is vital, said Malaysia Tourism’s Sarawak office director Suriya Charles Buas.
In this regard, Malaysian authorities have been engaging locals to monitor the behaviour of tourists, while at the same time educating them on the dos and don’ts.
“Natural heritage belongs to all, and we want to make sure that such assets are well protected for future generations,” he said after delivering his views on “Enhancing Tourism Quality” at the Asean-China Quality and Sustainable Tourism Development Conference here yesterday.
It was acknowledged that tourism has become an increasingly important source of revenue which is difficult to resist.
However, participants also noted that the surge in tourist numbers, especially in Asean countries promoting ecotourism, also brought along various negative impact.
Several countries, including Malaysia, have emphasised the importance of preserving cultural heritage as well as the natural environment in order to achieve sustainable development in tourism.
The Philippines ambassador to China, Jose Santiago, said uncontrolled tourism posed potential threats to such as pollution, loss of natural habitats, and threatened the survival of endangered species.
Using the famous Boracay Island in the Philippines as example, he said the place was at one time characterised by poor water quality and algal blooms due to the lack of enforcement on sanitation and wastewater discharge.
Other problems including coastal erosion, pollution and adverse environmental changes were also reported on the island, known as one of the world’s best beaches.
“Timely interventions by governments, advocacy groups and the local community can address the negative impacts from increased tourism while promoting quality and sustainable tourism development,” he pointed out.
China is now the largest outbound tourism market as more of its citizens are spending their holidays overseas.
Last year, 122 million Chinese travelled out of the country and spent US$109.8bil (RM465.27bil). Some 21.5 million Chinese visited Asean, including the more than two million who came to Malaysia.
Industry players also noted that the Chinese are now increasingly moving away from large organised tours to fully independent tours, typically groups of three families.
“Most of them prefer longer relaxing vacations and opt for quality accommodation and dining experience,” said Lu Na from the China Tourism Association.
She advised agencies to arrange tours for small groups which focused on local festivals and biodiversity, other than incorporating local handicraft and other fun learning activities.