PETALING JAYA: The dawn of a new decade signals new trends in travelling as well.
Responsible tourism is the keyword with much talk about “green travel”.
The adage “take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints” rings true, especially now that the country is welcoming tourists during Visit Malaysia 2020 (VM2020), to ensure less of a negative impact on the environment.
Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association president Uzaidi Udanis said ethical and responsible tourism must be practised if the beauty of tourist spots in the country is to be preserved.
“Nature sites are especially at risk when people are not responsible.
“In places like Redang island, turtles are afraid of humans because tourists keep touching the turtles as though they are pets, ” he said.
The problem is further aggravated by overtourism, he added.
Citing a 2019 report by the World Tourism and Travel Council, he said that Kuala Lumpur is a city, among others such as Istanbul and Manila, at risk of overtourism.
“We need to develop more tourist spots so that we can spread out the number of tourists.
“For example, Sky Mirror in Kuala Selangor has about 5,000 tourists in just a month, ” he said, adding that there were other places with a sky mirror such as Pulau Sembilan in Bagan Datuk, Perak.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said there is a small portion of tourists who commit irresponsible acts such as littering and vandalism.
“While most visitors travelling on their own are aware to safeguard the environment, a few may not bother, ” he said.
Security cameras, he added, could be installed in popular tourist destinations to prevent mischievous acts by tourists.
He said there has been a growing shift towards sustainable and responsible tourism, as industry players try to reduce plastic use such as laundry bags or mini shampoo bottles.
Travel agents, he added, also attend domestic education tours that have clean-up programmes at tourist destinations.
Ecotourism & Conservation Society of Malaysia (Ecomy) founder Andrew Sebastian said locals must lead the way in responsible tourism.
“While foreign tourists show more discipline and respect in keeping sites they visit clean, it is the local crowd that shows a lack of regard for cleanliness.
“Locals tend to deface a lot of sites with graffiti or breaking of structures. They collect plants from nature sites, ” he said.
He, however, said that there has been a growing trend for more eco-friendly tourist activities, especially as people become more climate conscious.
Malaysian Tourist Guides Council president Jimmy Leong said tour guides are trained to handle tourists who may not behave responsibly.
“When a guide is leading a group of tourists, the general standard advice is to keep the place clean and if they are at a nature site, not to take anything.
“We do see some tourists leaving behind cigarette butts, mineral bottles or tissues. The tour guides will then gently remind them not to. Some tour guides even dispose of the trash themselves, ” he said.
The hidden gems of Malaysia can be photographed and enjoyed by tourists but pinching of nature’s treasures is a strict no-no.
One such place is Sky Mirror in Kuala Selangor where unscrupulous tour operators run packages that include activities such as beachcombing for clams.
Sekinchan assemblyman Ng Suee Lim said the most important aspect of the VM2020 campaign is ensuring the minimisation of environmental damage.
Ng stressed that tourists are not allowed to disturb the marine life at Sky Mirror, a “secret island” in Kuala Selangor only accessible a few days in a month at low tide when a seabed appears above water for a few hours.
This exposes an expansive sand flat with the shallow water reflecting the sky, creating perfect photo opportunities.
It is also a habitat for many marine life including sea anemones, crab and sea grapes, but the most common are the sea and baby clams found abundantly in the sand.
“The most important thing during VM2020 is that the environment in tourist attractions must be looked after, especially the wildlife.
“Tourists are not allowed to dig around and collect anything from Sky Mirror.
“They can take photos and make memories but don’t simply take the shells, ” he added.
Ng also urged tour operators who are not licensed to run Sky Mirror packages to apply for the necessary permits and insurance.
“There are a lot of illegal tour operators who don’t have a proper licence, including insurance.
“They also want to earn money and we understand this but it’s better to make sure that everything is proper.
“If they want to make money, go apply for all the necessary licences and comply with the law, ” said Ng.
Besides Sky Mirror, at night, on days of high tide and dark skies in Kuala Selangor, visitors can also take a boat ride to sea to watch “blue tears” caused by bioluminescent organisms which glow in a blue hue.
Sky Mirror is one of the attractions that Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said will be promoted for VM2020, along with Mount Kinabalu and the Danum Valley in Sabah.