PETALING JAYA: Sustainable tourism will work if there is long-term investment in the natural and cultural history of a country, a world-renowned activist says.
Appearing on FMT’s talk show, Stakeholders, with Shireen, sustainability innovator Jake Kheel said the model of tourism to be adopted by any particular place must be based on locally available resources.
Kheel is vice-president of sustainability at a foundation set up by tourism operator Grupo Puntacana to improve the well-being of the people and the environment in the Dominican Republic.
“People come to visit us (in the Dominican Republic) to see these beautiful white sand beaches, to go out and swim in the ocean, visit our coral reefs, maybe visit some projects with the forest, and things like that.
“So at the end of the day, our tourism product is these assets that we have and the human resources that we have: the culture, music, food (and) dance,” he said.
Kheel said sustainability involves investing in these resources and protecting them in the long term.
“At the end of the day, that just makes our business more profitable and makes it more attractive for the visitors,” he said.
According to the UN Environment Programme, “sustainable tourism” is defined as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts and addresses the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.
Kheel said a big part of that sustainability involves protecting the environment.
Asked by host Shireen Muhiudeen if his organisation had had any success in limiting plastics and rubbish from reaching the oceans, Kheel said Grupo Puntacana assumed primary responsibility by taking the first step.
“What we try and do locally as an operator of a resort destination is, we want to take some of the challenges out of the hands of the visitors. I believe that the resort has the obligation, has the responsibility to find solutions.
“We can’t just pass it off to the consumer and say, ‘Just use fewer water bottles.’”
Established in 1994, the foundation has led several sustainable development initiatives in the eastern region of the country.
Its mission is to protect and preserve the natural resources of the Punta Cana region and create opportunities for the area’s inhabitants, improving the well-being of local communities.
It also collaborates with strategic partners from the private, public and civil society sectors to address social and environmental challenges.
“At the end of the day, tourists come here to get away from their daily commitments and their lives, take a break, go on vacation and enjoy a new place.
“We don’t want to burden them too much with the responsibility for environmental problems, but we do want them to participate,” he said.
Kheel said it falls on the government and industry stakeholders to assume the primary responsibility and obligation of finding solutions to ensure the sustainability of tourism.
He said upholding sustainable principles is a “balancing act” that requires “constant adaptation to new realities”.
“Sustainability is a long-term endeavour. You don’t solve any of these problems 100%. Instead, you adapt to a constantly changing environment and constantly evolving manifestation of these problems,” said Kheel.
Asked how Malaysia could get all of its stakeholders on the same page in terms of sustainability, he said: “It’s like having an orchestra. You need to get all the musicians playing the right song and get them playing together.”
Everybody must be committed and buy into the same long-term goal. That is the big challenge of sustainability, he said, adding that all stakeholders must work in harmony to solve the major challenges affecting everyone.
Kheel also said there has to be willingness from the government, especially in terms of putting laws in place to encourage sustainability.
“The private sector often has to finance things, has to bring its own human resources, its creativity and capacity to innovate to some of these challenges,” he said.
He said community engagement is also necessary to ensure that the endeavour bears fruit.