With tourism well and truly back in business in Malaysia, the government is looking at ways to expand and improve. Now, with a New Year unfolding, the sector has a clean slate and an opportunity to redefine itself. According to leading tourism officials, the key to this new direction is sustainable tourism.
“I think a lot of people are not really sure what sustainable tourism is all about,” says Datuk Zainuddin Abdul Wahab, Director General of the Malaysian Tourist Board. He believes this new paradigm is the way of the future, so his organisation is putting resources into building capacity and raising awareness. “Education is one of our tasks,” he added.
“We are talking about how to preserve and take care of nature without spoiling it, and yet still be able to promote tourism,” explains Wahab, whose organisation is exploring ways to create a cleaner, more circular tourism paradigm, in which operations tread lightly on the environment and deliver tangible benefits to local people.
Key to this new approach will be small-scale businesses, which can transfer local knowledge to guests and transmit the benefits of their visit to the wider community. According to Wahab, the nation’s network of around 260 homestays have a major part to play in the new ecotourism landscape.
“The concept of homestays is something that goes along with our green tourism, our responsible tourism,” says Abdul Wahab. “If you are going to participate in a homestay, you will stay together with your foster family, you will eat whatever they eat.”
This hands-on, immersive approach to tourism can offer guests a much richer experience, and can be applied to a range of activities. “If you are on a tea plantation for example,” explains the Director General, “you will do all the activities of a tea plantation; if you are staying in a fishing village, then you will have the opportunity to see what they do in a fishing village.”
Activities on offer through these programmes include fruit picking, attending local festivals and preparing food using traditional methods. All programmes are designed to create more balanced and beneficial exchanges between travellers and host communities. Ultimately, this greener, more immersive approach to travel will result in memorable experiences for visitors and lasting benefits for those that welcome them to Malaysia.