KUCHING: Achieving a sustainable tourism industry is ‘a marathon’ that requires consistent efforts and commitment from all stakeholders involved including the host country, tourism players, local population and visitors.
In this respect, Dr Linda J Cox stresses that the path towards sustainable tourism is a long journey that is beset with challenges and thus, one must skilfully navigate it to achieve win-win situation for all parties.
The community economic development specialist from University of Hawaii at Manoa, in the state of Hawaii in the US, pointed this out during a talk on ‘What is Sustainable Tourism and Case Study in Hawaii’ at Yayasan Sarawak building along Jalan Masjid here yesterday.
According to Cox, who has authored and co-authored many publications regarding tourism and has also run workshops on sustainable development, the World Tourism Organisation – an agency affiliated with the United Nations (UN) – has stated that every nation needs a well-designed and managed tourism sector but at the same time, this sector must also support the whole sustainability goals.
“Setting up a mechanism with key metrics formulated to measure progress in achieving sustainable tourism is a crucial component for the overall strategy to be successful,” she said, also pointing out that the economic welfare of the people should be given priority before implementing any sustainable tourism goal as failing to do would result in the objectives related to the wellbeing of social and environmental strategy to be ill-received by the people.
“If you’re not able to provide food on the table for your family this week, it’s very difficult for you to look ahead and be concerned with the sustainable developments for the coming 100 years.
“For sustainable tourism development strategy to be effective, the efforts committed need to be properly explained and articulated to all the stakeholders including tourism players, local population and even the visitors.”
Cox opined that most people would understand sustainability as a concept, but lack clear understanding of its significance when being applied to the daily activities of the people’s lives.
“There must be management plan and guidelines in place to address visitors’ concerns and it must be extended to all types of tourism.
“Such strategies are also to be constant revised because we can always improve.”
Moreover, Cox stressed that a comprehensive research must be carried out to identify the benefits and costs of tourism sector as most stakeholders would usually focus only on the positive side of the industry.
Fair distributions of benefits and costs to both host country and visitors should be properly monitored as policymakers might not want a situation where the benefits were unfairly tilted towards the visitors, while the local economy was being left out from the development.
“You need to help local businesses on how to engage (the visitors) and provide good services that the visitors are willing to pay for. Services are really about the experience these days and that is what we should be aiming for.”
Cox said visitors would want a unique experience that no other place could duplicate upon exploring a country.
She added that while visitors brought in tourism dollars to a country’s economy, the host country must shoulder the responsibility of informing visitors about the culture, environmental uniqueness, the economy, traditional lifestyle practises and political patterns.
“Visitors can be challenging at times.
“They come here for a week or two but how do we get the message (of respecting the area’s uniqueness) to them? It’s very challenging, but it must be done.”
Things would be made worst if the host country did not engage enough with the visitors for them to be aware of the accepted behaviours and practises in the area, she pointed out.
“Sometimes we need native speakers of each of the language to deliver the message in a way that they (visitors) would understand the behaviours that we want, especially on environmental issue.”
Cox said at one time, the communities in Hawaii were upset with the flood of visitors into their state, which seemed to have affected their traditional lifestyle and push up the costs of living.
Citing this as an example, she said to implement the best management practise in term of sustainable tourism, the host country and the local population must have a strong understanding of existing policies in order to integrate sustainable practises with local tourism products.
Cox also said careful planning would be required when driving a sustainable tourism sector and in this respect, a list of initiatives including certification, education and special training programmes could be conducted for tourism players to achieve these goals.
“Let me be very clear – the road to sustainability is very long. It has many twists and turns, and potholes – and it’s also not a guided tour.
“This is a very long journey but we are in this together,” she added.
The talk was conducted by Angkatan Zaman Mansang (Azam) Sarawak in collaboration with the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.