TOO many tourist arrivals have the side-effect of destroying the fragile eco-systems of islands, warned Yang Gi-Cheol, director-general of Tourism Bureau of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province in South Korea.
“Even Phi Phi Islands of Phuket are closed indefinitely because of severe environmental pollution issues,” he said at the recent 22nd Inter-Islands Tourism Policy (ITOP) Forum hosted in George Town, Penang.
He said a few popular islands were also out of bound to tourists now and expressed hope that the forum of tourism leaders of the member-islands of ITOP would combine resources to design sustainable tourism economies.
Since 2013, Penang has been a member-island of ITOP along with 12 others — Jeju (Korea), Okinawa (Japan), Hainan (China), Bali (Indonesia), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Hawaii (United States), Southern Province (Sri Lanka), Phuket (Thailand), Cebu (Philippines), Kampong Cham (Cambodia), Prince Edward (Canada) and Gotland (Sweden).
Yang was giving the welcome speech to ITOP delegates on behalf of Jeju Governor Won Hee-Ryong.
He said United Nations World Tourism Organisation forecasted that tourists to the Asia-Pacific region would increase by 8% this year which will be the highest growth ever.
“But the Asia-Pacific region is so vulnerable to climate change because of the high proportion of islands,” he warned, adding that 38% of the natural disasters of the world happened in the Asia-Pacific in the last 30 years.
He said climate change has made sea levels rise with melting glaciers and this can influence marine ecological systems and human life.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who also delivered a welcome speech to delegates, stressed the importance of the tourism industry for islands with limited resources.
“Penang’s services sector has overtaken manufacturing as the top contributor of our Gross Domestic Product.
“Manufacturing was in the lead for about 40 years.
“We are experiencing a boom in tourism, which can become an engine of growth for Penang,” he added.
Later, state Tourism Development, Heritage, Culture and Arts Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with ITOP members.
Yeoh said the state was honoured to be able to host the conference this year and that the member regions would be joining efforts to develop their tourism sectors.
“This will be a start for us to foster our new friendship and diplomatic relationships between member regions.
“It will also help us incubate new talents for the state’s tourism industry,” he said after signing the MoU at The Wembley – A St Giles Hotel.