• What are the strength of Perak in terms of Eco-tourism?
• What are the challenges that need to be overcome?
• What is the way forward?

In 2015 Malaysia received 25.7 million tourist which generated RM 69.1 Billion. However, this rapid growth has brought about the deterioration of the ecosystem, particularly with pollution arising from inadequate waste management. This has marred public perception of the industry. If this environmental degradation is not addressed, repeat visits are likely to decline.

Thus, the state is making its way towards sustainable development. Tourism has started to be more responsible. The ecotourism concept has been emphasised and emerged as an alternative to mitigate the faults of conventional tourism, and meet the principles of sustainability while contributing to the economy.

There has been much discussion and debate regarding the size and growth of the ecotourism market.

Ecotourism supporters tend to provide large estimates; others question this growth on contextual grounds. Market size estimates depend on the definition used to describe the market, and the sustainability component of ecotourism is particularly difficult to measure. Yet, most existing estimates are based solely on this component. But ecotourism is more than the experience of nature and wildlife. It involves the context of engaging with local communities to promote and ensure sustainability.

FUTURE GROWTH OF ECOTOURISM IN PERAK

Perak recorded the highest number of domestic tourist in 3 consecutive years from 2013 to 2015 (Figure 2). All in all the total number of Domestic tourist to Perak within that period is 21 million.

Perak has great potential for success in ecotourism because of its abundant natural and cultural resources. There are more than 91 locations (as described in IDR’s research report) that can be developed into ecotourism destinations. The Royal Belum State Park is a popular Perak ecotourism destination that recorded a total of 20,000 tourists in 2014. Ecotourism is a priority in the Perak Amanjaya Development Plan.

Another site with high potential to be an ecotourism destination is Kuala Gula, a small fishing village located in the Kerian district, about 50 km west of Taiping and 80 km south of Penang. A recorded total of 7,000 tourists visited in 2015.

ISSUES, TRENDS, AND CHALLENGES

Various demographic, tourism, and other trends will present challenges and opportunities for the natural area managers in the future. To some degree, these trends will put pressure on managers to improve the status quo, take on new responsibilities, and become open to different perspectives. For example, effective resource management will require greater social and political skills.

An overarching issue is the need to deal with ecotourism in a business-like approach when adapting to changes in the marketplace and serving ecotourists as customers. There are two general options for tackling this: put natural area management agencies to this task or have them engage the private sector to do it in a partnership.

This does not mean that important resource management objectives should be sacrificed for the demands of tourists or the tourism industry. Indeed, it may be critical for natural area managers to obtain additional political support in order to stay consistent with the objectives. Rather, it means that a more flexible, business-like approach can be taken within the constraints of pursuing these objectives. Such an approach will enhance the probability of the state achieving its ecotourism goals in the future.

Based on IDR’s research report entitled ‘Perak 2030: A Vision for Green Growth and Sustainable Development,’ the following have been identified as challenges to the state’s sustainable ecotourism development.

1. Weak data monitoring and statistical recording.
The framework of statistical data collection is poor. For example, a performance indicator is the occupancy rate of hotels with a record of 47% during the period of 2010 to 2011. This indicator is clearly insufficient for evaluating and monitoring current performance and contribution towards Perak’s GDP. This is especially true of ecotourism. Effective management is dependent on applicable and sufficient amount of data on implementation processes.

2. Low quality service provider.
Knowledge on biodiversity is an important driver in ecotourism, the lack of which is the biggest constraint to the development of ecotourism clusters. The underdeveloped supporting industries, such as eco-lodge, travel service, and food and beverage, are not of satisfactory quality. Small- and medium-scale operators often fail to embrace and practise the principles of ecotourism.

3. Uncontrolled activities.
Due to poor knowledge and monitoring, some income generating activities are inconsistent with environmental protection. Kuala Sepetang, which is known for its untouched mangrove, is also associated with prawn farming, cockle harvesting and fisheries. Furthermore, secondary tourism businesses such as homestays and seafood restaurants are generating waste flowing into the nearest river, which affect the habitat of endangered species such as fireflies, and aquatic life in the mangroves.

4. Inefficient marketing and promotional tools.
Existing campaigns focus on encouraging tourist visits rather than conscious and meaningful tourism. For example, neither the state agencies nor local tourism groups are able to deliver a variety of tourism products and more value through tourist information centres. This does not compel new visitors to come or extend their visit. It is partly due to the weak collaboration between state agencies and local tourism operators.

5. Inadequate infrastructure.
Local tourism authorities and tour operators have not been offering high quality narratives and delivering meaningful conservation messages to visitors. Poor maintenance of cultural infrastructure is also a major factor in the decline of visitors. For example, the turtle conservation and information centre in Pasir Panjang, Segari, cannot garner a steady flow of visitors without the support of government agencies.

THE WAY FORWARD

Strategic actions to boost ecotourism
In order for the state to tap into its ecotourism potential and increase tourism revenues, a series of
comprehensive plans has been made:

SHORT TERM PLAN (2016-2020)

1. Explore and prioritize ecotourism destinations. The identification of potential locations for ecotourism development should be done in systematically with short- and long-term perspectives (Nor Hasliza et al., 2014). State agencies and local authorities can then find spots which are economically viable to the state and local community.

2. Upgrade facilities without compromising nature. The upgrading of infrastructures will boost the number of visitors. However, this enhancement must adhere strictly to existing environmental policies and regulations.

3. Institutional framework for ecotourism. A detailed guideline on the principles of ecotourism addressing pressing issues such as land use and management by state agencies should be established. It should consist of both government- and investor-led approaches to management. With innovative business models led by private enterprises, such value creation can offer visitors new experiences and services that government agencies cannot offer.

MEDIUM-TERM PLAN (2021-2025)

1. Award and certification. The federal government has introduced tourism certifications such as Criteria and Indicator Programmme (C&I) and Malaysia Tourism Quality Assurance (MyTQA) to increase the quality of services. A proposed Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) aims to integrate the principle of sustainable tourism by identifying good management practices, measuring environmental and social impact as well as the client’s perception, and the congruence between the services offered and the product’s promotion. CST in Costa Rica, for example, adopts an award system that takes into account ecotourism’s environmental, social, and community impact in every scale of operations (Sander, 2010).

2. Sustainable production and consumption (SCP) in tourism. The main principle of SCP is to do ‘more and better with less’. Transitioning to SCP practices generates green jobs. Ecotourism is a game changer as this sector has the largest potential for improvement in resource efficiency. The potential areas include CO2 emissions with a projected 52% improvement over business as usual (BAU) scenarios, energy consumption at 44%, water consumption at 18% and net waste disposal at 17%. Therefore, local communities and tour operators who engage in SCP initiatives will gain frontrunner advantage.

LONG-TERM PLAN (2026-2030)

1. Promote conservation awareness. Awareness on the benefits of protecting Perak’s natural gifts has to be promoted in local communities. Tour operators should be equipped with knowledge so as to communicate effectively with the visitors. Training programmes will sow positive attitudes and curiosity about the ecosystem and our natural heritage, and awareness on the valuation of ecosystem services.

2. Upgrade research centres into living laboratories for edu-ecotourism hub. Making conservation practices mainstream in local communities through educational institutions, commercial and public entities nurtures a stronger learning environment. Stakeholders can design a loop of direct – indirect – direct conservation from ecotourism activities (Sander, 2010). Creating a learning atmosphere by commissioning research with commercial value, for instance, gives added value to visitors and locals alike. The concept of a living laboratory can deepen the exchange of knowledge and empower the locals.