Malaysian tourism players need to prioritise post-pandemic sustainable travel

Travellers are now more conscious of the concept of sustainable travel. — G.R. MOTTEZ/Unsplash

Most of us probably wouldn’t mind finding bottles of mineral water when we check in to our hotel rooms. In fact, it’s a welcoming gesture, right? Well, Malaysian actress Maya Karin certainly doesn’t feel that way.

As a matter of fact, the environment advocate will be absolutely annoyed if she finds plastic bottles in her hotel room.

“One thing that sort of like, really makes me angry is the ‘laziness’ of hotels where they just put complimentary water bottles in every room. It just doesn’t have to be that way, we can put a beautiful jug of water in a room instead,” she said.

Speaking at a sustainable tourism panel discussion organised by Airbnb recently, Maya said that there are many small steps that businesses and travellers can take to make holidays a much more greener experience.

But before anything else, Maya said there has to be a better understanding of what sustainability entails.

Sustainable tourism is defined by the United Nations Environment Programme and UN World Tourism Organisation as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.

If anything, sustainable tourism is certainly gaining awareness among more Malaysian travellers. According to Airbnb’s Meaningful Travel Trends Survey 2021 report, over 60% of respondents said they often consider the environment and sustainability when choosing travel accommodations and destinations.

Another notable finding was that being close to nature was the most important criteria for respondents when deciding where to go, with more than half saying they desired slower-paced holidays in smaller groups, and travel to less crowded and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

The study, which was conducted with global data analytics firm YouGov, surveyed a total of 1,140 Malaysians earlier this year.

More recently, Airbnb launched the inaugural Green Stays Awards to promote sustainable tourism recovery in Malaysia.

The award aims to recognise and celebrate small local tourism accommodation providers in Malaysia that incorporate sustainable practices into their operations. This is based on local sustainability criteria developed with guidance from both partners.

“I think this is the perfect time to address sustainable tourism within Malaysia. Awareness has increased tremendously over the last five to 10 years in terms of conservation sustainability, social responsibility, ethics and civil behaviour,” Maya said.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia president Andrew Sebastian said sustainable tourism can help rebuild the post-pandemic travel landscape in a more meaningful way.

“People are now focused on peace of mind. They want to go out to nature, to the beaches and the highlands... somewhere away from other people.

“The point is that, at this juncture, nature-based tourism is very important. We need to make this form of tourism sustainable,” he said during the panel.

Sebastian added that local communities should be engaged to help in the development of sustainable tourism. He further stated that travellers can also do their part by putting the pressure on tourism operators.

Meanwhile, Global Sustainable Tourism Council director (Asia Pacific) Dr Mihee Kang stressed that both the public and private sectors need to work together for sustainable tourism to successfully materialise.

Kang believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has also given the tourism sector a chance to do, and be, better.

“I think that it has made us think about sustainability more deeply and more seriously. We need a more solid and sustainable structure for our environment,” she concluded.

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