PETALING JAYA: Naked mountain climbers, animal abuse, dancing at a mosque and urinating in public by foreign tourists were among headline-grabbing events in Malaysia.
While the landmark Visit Malaysia 2020 (VM2020) campaign aims for 30 million visitors and RM100bil in tourist receipts, it must be ensured that it does not contribute to the destruction of the places and communities visited, say seasoned travellers.
Travel blogger Mei Mei Chu, 29, said she was quite appalled when she met tourists who took advantage of the people in the country they were visiting and tourists who totally disrespected local cultures and sensitivities.
“In Malaysia alone, I’ve met travellers from wealthier countries who ate at the soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur.
“Many beg for money on the streets to fund their holidays when they should be contributing to the local economy and supporting local businesses.
“There are also travellers who dress inappropriately in conservative places and disrespect the local customs and laws, ” said Chu, who has been backpacking solo for over 10 years.
In June 2015, four Europeans who posed naked on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah were jailed for three days and fined RM5,000.
And in June 2018, two women from China who danced disrespectfully in front of a mosque in Kota Kinabalu were fined RM25 each.
On VM2020, Chu said that while Malaysia had a huge focus on eco-tourism, sometimes activities that were harmful to the environment were passed off as ecotourism.“For example, eagle feeding and snorkelling trips where guides feed the fish and catch the turtles for the amusement of their guests.
“Ecotourism is often misunderstood as just a holiday in nature, when in fact ecotourism should be activities that support conservation efforts, ” she said.
Another seasoned traveller who wished to be known only as Natasha, 31, said haggling in a third world country, especially when the items were already so cheap, was the worst thing she saw another traveller do.
“I think some people who can absolutely afford the prices haggle just for the fun of it and that’s so wrong.
“In my case, I witnessed such haggling in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
“Street kids were selling fridge magnets and other trinkets for US$2 (RM8.20) or something and yet people were haggling, ” said Natasha, who has visited over 40 countries.
While she had experienced tourism activities such as riding elephants and taking photos with a tiger in Thailand when she was travelling with her parents at 14, Natasha said she no longer did these as an adult.
Jalil Imani, 22, an Iranian student in Malaysia and avid traveller, said he had met many travellers who cared about the environment and respected local culture, but he had also run into a few bad apples.
“I once saw a Chinese couple allowing their child, who looked about three, pooping in the bushes near KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre).
“I’ve been in Malaysia for over five years, so I think of it as my second home and this kind of behaviour really bothers me, ” he said.
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