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11-World Ecotourism Conference-2010

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									WORLD ECOTOURISM CONFERENCE


Delegates examine case for upping the value chain at ecotourism
conference




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BY Y. SULAIMAN, ETN | AUG 02, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR (eTN) - Is there a case for "upping the value chain" in ecotourism? Or, should
ecotourism remain a niche segment of the tourism industry that appeals only to "green" tourists?


About 250 delegates to the recent World Ecotourism Conference 2010 in Kuala Lumpur heard a

healthy dose of arguments from academics arguing the future of ecotourism in "upping the value
chain" if the industry is to retain its appeal.


Led by the "untiring efforts" of Professor Amran Hamzah from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia,

researchers in ecotourism and tourism experts were given a global platform to present research
works "for the betterment of sustainable tourism economies, people, and the environment."


Supported by eTurboNews as an industry partner, industry practitioners examined the case for

shifting paradigms as much as adapting to changing conditions in the industry. Delegates also
looked at the impact of climate change, which remains an industry bugbear.


Declaring 2010 as the United Nation's Year of Biodiversity, Dr. Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary-

general appealed to ecotourism industry stakeholders from both the public and private sectors to

strongly assess ecological impacts on the environment while acknowledging its role as a socio-
economic driver.


"Embrace best practices in sustainable tourist development and rise as true champions of tourism
and biodiversity, " said Dr. Rifai in his message to delegates.
"If I am in it for the money, I will be doing something else," argued industry practitioner Chan

Yuen Li, whose Nomad Adventures has been certified as a Rescue 3 trainer. "I couldn't even get a
permit to conduct bungy jumping as an adventure sport."


In her arguments for the increasing popularity of homestay tourism to push up tourism's value

chain, researcher Clotilde Luquiau from France claims, "As a characteristic, homestay tourism
benefits the local people directly."


In her study of homestay in Tanjung Piai, Johor, Haniza Mohamad from Universiti Teknologi

Malaysia concludes the nature of a homestay program is to "employ and involve a large number of
locals in its operations. It benefits the local economy."


Citing her studies in the lower plains of Kinabatangan, Sabah, Luquiau said tourists like the

experience of homestays."They are eager to learn about the local culture, tradition, and share the
everyday life of the people even if they had some criticisms. It is an eye-opener."


Lamenting it is not an easy experience to translate on the Internet in today's changing climate of

marketing travel experiences, tourists are often confused between homestays and Bed & Breakfast
experiences.


In her value chain analysis of Pro Poor Income (PPI) to measure the economic benefits received by

homestay operators, Haniza cautioned, "Substantial profits from tourism activities does not
necessarily translate to the site contributing substantially to the local economy.


"The program should be maintained and the products further developed due to its potential of

producing significant return for participants. We use value chain analysis as a tool to measure
economic benefits for the local people and reveal weak economic leakages."


In his analysis of how Kerala state has become a model for responsible ecotourism development in

India, P. J. Shyju said the state has become an "all season destination" by introducing a number of

innovative tourism products, which includes wellness/health tourism, in addition to its current

stable of natural and cultural attractions. "Kerala's tourism is a brand among other Indian states,
even internationally," Shyju stated.


But in an argument against moving "up the value chain" of ecotourism as an income generator,

Shyju said it has only benefited resort owners and homestay operators who have "good
connections."


The guests are mostly from the upper-income group, so they can charge more, with some resulting
in excessive charges for room and food.


As a result of over commercialization and the lack of price control mechanism, the visitor is

exploited. "Despite the efforts by officials, visitor dissatisfaction has led to misunderstandings,"
Shyju continued. "Rather than conservation, it has resulted in visitor exploitation, over crowding,
and lack of waste management."


Rapid changes and climate change has altered the village people's lifestyle. Instead of maintaining
their traditional crops, land owners are converting to planting commercial crops.


Land values around lakes, forests, or other deemed scenic spots with enough tourist potential have
gone up multiple times. "A man now can't even earn enough to own a small house," Shyju said.


Expectations from tourism earnings has blinded operators. Visitors, in fact, just want to have fun

and excitement instead of a learning experience. Local authorities, said Shyju, are to blame for

ignoring the needs of locals when a new tourist attraction is developed, other than raising
expectations and befitting the business owners.


Touting Malaysia's potential in ecotourism as a country with a varied ecosystem of biodiversity

from mountain to sea, Zoha Azhal from the country's ministry of natural resources and

environment said Malaysia is one of the 12 mega-diverse countries in the world which is rich in
fauna and flora.


A "tropical heaven of biodiversity," Malaysia's conservation efforts range from its entrance-free

renowned national elephant conservation sanctuary in Kuala Gandah, tiger valley and world's
largest cow in Krau Wildlife Reserve, to Tioman Island marine park for diving and snorkeling sports.


Despite registering a healthy growth rate of 14 percent per annum since 2004, the country's

potential as an ecotourism destination, however, still suffers from lack of packaging and
coordinated promotion.


"Connectivity, support services, and on-site facilities in some areas is still inadequate. Sites are not

well-maintained, and there is a lack of trained personnel," said Azhal. "Still, the ecotourism sector
accounts for 5 percent of Malaysia's income from tourism."


Conference Convener, Lee Choon Loong, who has been the industry's face in Malaysia as well as

association secretary-general, claimed an industry first of including 10 "young eco warriors" from 9

countries, who he said had volounteered their involvement in organizing the conference at their
own costs.


"Our success in attracting 48 speakers from 18 countries and delegates from 45 countries ensured
the conference became a global success," he said.

								
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