Time to focus on sustainable tourism

It is a double-edged sword, the more precious and beautiful a site is, it is also prone to human intervention and negative impacts

by HARIZAH KAMEL / pic credit: news.airbnb.com

NOW is the perfect time to address sustainable tourism within Malaysia and increase more awareness on the sustainability agenda as social sectors and tourism are reopening.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (ECOMY) president and CEO Andrew Sebastian said it is high time to focus on building sustainable travel and ecotourism as people are fixated on going to beaches and islands to find peace of mind from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Of course, it is a double-edged sword — the more precious and beautiful a site is, it is also prone to human intervention and negative impacts, so therein lies the balancing act that we need. The point is that at this juncture, nature-based tourism is very important so how can we sustain it?

“Sustainable travel is also a mindset; it is going back and forth between Point A and Point B without damaging the very beautiful thing that we want to experience. Local communities being empowered and engaged is key to driving this state of mind,” he said in a virtual panel discussion titled “Rebuilding Malaysia Tourism with Sustainable Travel” held by Airbnb Inc yesterday.

Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) director for Asia Pacific Dr Mihee Kang said there is always room to improve in sustainable tourism where travel requires ongoing practices and that the enforcement of sustainable policies should be supported by all key stakeholders as a collective responsibility.

“GSTC emphasises on public-private collaboration in our criteria for industry and destination.

“We believe the public sector should engage with the private sector including non-governmental organisations. The private sector should also participate in destination management to discuss opportunities,” she said.

Green and sustainable travel is gaining awareness among Malaysian travellers.

The survey also revealed being close to nature was the No 1 criteria for respondents when deciding where to go, with more than half saying they desired slower-paced holidays in smaller groups, and travel to less crowded and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has launched the Airbnb Green Stays Awards in Malaysia, a new awards initiative recognising sustainable travel accommodation in the country.

With interstate travel restrictions officially lifted and domestic travel set to resume, the Awards are part of Airbnb’s ongoing efforts to help rebuild tourism in a more sustainable and inclusive way, in line with the government’s strategies in the recent 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP).

In collaboration with GSTC and ECOMY, the inaugural Awards aim to recognise and celebrate small local tourism accommodation providers that incorporate sustainable practices into their operations, based on local sustainability criteria developed with guidance from both partners.

Airbnb, GSTC and ECOMY will form the judging panel for the inaugural Awards. Nominations will be scored across a range of criteria, including use of green products, waste management, energy conservation, water conservation and biodiversity conservation.

Malaysian Green Technology and Climate Change Centre CEO Syed Ahmad Syed Mustafa said the recent 12MP and commitment to COP 2021 signal a move towards the country’s preparedness to progress its economy in a greener direction.

“The relaxation of lockdown measures now provides the tourism sector a chance to rejuvenate itself; and with the continued closure of international borders, it is wise for tourism industry players to re-strategise their marketing by incorporating sustainable practices.

“We need to strengthen our joint efforts toward a sustainable, just and inclusive recovery. I firmly believe this will significantly impact the development of sustainable tourism in Malaysia,” he said in his opening remarks during the launch.

Airbnb GM for South-East Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan Amanpreet Bajaj said Airbnb remains focused on playing a positive and proactive role in supporting domestic tourism recovery.

“We are committed to helping rebuild tourism in a way that benefits local communities throughout Malaysia, promotes eco-tourism and authentic cultural experiences, and drives economic recovery.

“Sustainability will play a crucial role in these efforts to rebuild travel, and we support the government’s focus on sustainability as part of its strategies to re-energise tourism under the 12MP.

“We know that Malaysians appreciate sustainable travel and we aim to promote unique, environmentally friendly stays and drive more consumer visibility and interest through these first-ever Awards,” he said.

Malaysian hospitality providers can now apply for the Awards from now until Oct 24, 2021, at airbnb.com/malaysiagreenstays. The Awards recipients will be announced next month.