By Andrew Sebastian
Ecotourism is a growing mammoth of a niche industry worldwide – offering jobs and economic prosperity while celebrating the world’s natural heritage from underwater to mountain tops. According to the United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is the most robust & growing sector in parallel to the tourism industry.
Simply defined, ecotourism is travelling to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education (TIES).
It is estimated that eight billion people visited the world’s 140,000 protected areas annually and this has generated at least US$600 billion to national economies. As an example, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary receives more than US$2 billion in spending during one tourist season.
Malaysia’s ecotourism value however, has not been wholly quantified but Ecotourism & Conservation Society Malaysia (ECOMY) & Tourism Malaysia did estimate that in terms of birdwatching in Malaysia, this niche ‘high yield’ activity has netted the country over RM20.3 million in receipts in 2015 – this from only 3,150 birdwatchers!
As one of the 12 ‘megadiverse’ countries in the world, Malaysia holds jointly with 11 other countries, 75% of all known wildlife and plant diversity in the world and is therefore poised with amazing assets to capture the ecotourism market. ‘Green business’ is a growing trend and economic fact. Our country and its stakeholders must take active steps now to conserve the golden goose and resist the onslaught of destroying natural forests & landscapes, polluting waterways and creating vast monoculture plantations at the expense of natural forests.
Ecotourism potentials and products in Malaysia, once understood, respected and properly planned, maintained and marketed, will hold the key to a unique and sustainable future for the world to marvel upon. Mother nature has blessed us with world class diving spots, beautiful beaches and highlands, oldest rainforests, the Rafflesia, orangutans and many others – all of which tourists will pay good money to observe and experience!
Let us therefore embrace these resources and strive to strike a green economic balance for our natural heritage and for the wellbeing of generations to come!