Tourism studies should be approached not as one field, but with respective areas of expertise, much like engineering having civil, mechanical, electrical, etc.
By CY Ming
A cluster of nine islands off Perak has been declared off-limits to tourists by the state government. Pulau Sembilan joins the long lists of tourism sites throughout the country that have been degraded by irresponsible visitors over the past half a century.
Our authorities and tourism graduates are in the same boat. If you ask them to define tourism, their replies would be getting people to visit various places of interests, and success is determined by the number of visitors.
Our tertiary institutions do not fare much better. They offer tourism courses that are so wide that it can take several lifetimes to master all the tourism sectors.
To give a similarity in a different field, imagine if a university were to offer only engineering, then all engineering students will have to study chemical, civil, electrical, electronic, mechanical, and structural and so on.
Tourism should be approached as a gigantic business that encompasses many sectors such as airlines, train, bus and boat operators, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, shopping malls and many more.
All these businesses must be licensed and controlled by the authorities, and run by those with the required skills and ethics. Community-based tourism will allow locals to benefit, but above all is responsible tourism to ensure sustainability of the sites and business.
I started working as a tourist guide in 1973 and over the years, I have read many initiatives by state governments to promote tourism. Those days, opening an access road to a waterfall was in vogue, and the authorities would proudly declare they have done their part in promoting tourism.
With the shortage of swimming pools around the country, waterfalls and mountain streams under the jungle canopy are like paradise on earth. The eyes of Arab tourists would gleam in such surroundings.
Within a short time of opening, such places would be packed with local visitors, especially on weekends. Malaysians do not have to pack for picnics, as food is sold everywhere.
Pisang goreng (banana fritters) and ice cream sellers would be doing roaring business, thanks to the fresh cool jungle air that whets up an appetite.
But after the people leave, the garbage is left strewn everywhere, some flowing downstream. If the local authorities do not have the budget for maintenance, then it should appoint concessionaires to run such remote spots.
The concessionaire could be allowed to build chalets and a restaurant without damaging the environment, and also be held responsible for the cleanliness of the vicinity. Those failing their duties should be fined or their concession not renewed upon expiry.
I went to Taman Negara only twice, in 1974, when I brought two groups of French tourists there, travelling by boat from Kuala Tembling to Kuala Tahan. I could sense that in time, the ecology of the place would be affected by greed and apathy.
Although I had plenty of opportunities to watch giant leatherback turtles lay eggs on Terengganu beaches or the fireflies along the Selangor River at Kampung Kuantan, I chose not to do so as I did not wish to disturb them.
I could swim underwater in all directions with my hands tied but have refrained from snorkelling and scuba diving, as many of the popular dive sites are overcrowded.
Although Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said there would be no physical development at the Pulau Sembilan State Park, which was also decreed by Sultan Nazrin Shah, and agreed by Menteri Besar Zambry Abd Kadir, Pulau Sembilan ought to be designated as a marine park to preserve its habitat and ensure the ecosystem is sustained.
CY Ming is an FMT reader.
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