In Southeast Asia, the first quarter of 2018 saw an increase of 9.4 percent in tourist arrivals which is considered the largest number recorded amongst all regions. The statistics exceeded the already robust six percent average growth for global tourism during the same period.
Still the growth in the tourism sector is under immense threat. The region’s governments and industry players are working to identify key risks threatening the robustness and resilience of the sector.
As the prime motivation for visitors to come to the region hinges on local landscapes, biodiversity, heritage and cultures, the sector’s survival depends on the ability to retain and preserve as much of these natural resources with the help of sustainable tourism.
The Malaysian National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage’s Chairman, Dr Ong Hong Peng, cited the example of Malaysia’s Sipadan Island in the early 2000s as an example. Following deterioration of coral reef quality and marine life due to over tourism, Malaysia took the bold step of relocating all onsite buildings and businesses out of Sipadan Island. Sustainable management practices were implemented and a daily quota of 120 divers was imposed to reduce pressure on the environment.
Dr Ong Hong Peng said at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Asia Pacific Executive Training Program on Tourism Policy and Strategy that “These measures contributed to the improvement of the quality and diversity of marine life and ecosystem, which in turn, ensured the sustainability of Sipadan Island. It continues to be ranked as one of the top 10 best dive sites in the world. These timely interventions enabled the reaping of long-term economic and social benefits in a sustainable manner,”.
Sustainable tourism is the need of the hour as the main problem is pollution which is a significant threat to inland and coastal destinations, with plastics which can be used once only and results to be the main hazard. This threat is especially larger in ASEAN, where half of its member states are among the top 10 countries ranked by mass for mismanaged plastic waste.
The threat that can affect a lot are the human-driven threats, because the tourism sector is also threatened by climate change which acts as a multiplier of existing risks. With the rising sea temperature and global warming on the rise creates irreversible loss of coral ecosystems, tropical fish, as well as coral bleaching and mass die-offs.
Sustainable tourism practices can ensure tourism assets continue to provide for its communities, while risks assessments can help countries identify where interventions are required. A lot can be retained from being destroyed if the solution and implementation go hand in hand.
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