The Government will ensure that the tourism industry is managed on the concept of sustainable development in the light of the increasing demand for eco-tourism, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.
Emphasizing the Governments support and commitment towards accelerating the growth of the industry, the Prime Minister said the growing popularity of eco-tourism had made sustainable development imperative.
He said the demand for nature tourism had even motivated the United Nations to designate 2002 as the "International Year of Eco-Tourism".
"Many believe that eco-tourism may represent the world's best hope for saving our fragile eco-systems.
"By establishing a lucrative business that provides an opportunity for tourists to visit and see some of the truly pristine places on earth, including tropical rain forests, environmentally sensitive travel and tourism companies, with assistance from the Government, are helping to preserve part of mankind's natural environment."
Dr Mahathir said this when opening the 50th Pacific Asia Travel Association annual conference at the Putra World Trade Centre.
More than 2,000 delegates and media representatives from 70 countries are nattending the five-day event themed Proud Past-Promising Future.
According to him, the tourism industry had established itself as one of the three strategic national industries of the new millenium, together with information communication technology or ICT and environmental industries.
He said tourism was a value-added industry, with its value added rate estimated at more than 50 per cent, exceeding even that of the semiconductor industry.
As a source of foreign exchange earnings, the tourism industry had done better compared to exports of automobiles and electronic goods.
Its job-creating potential was also among the highest compared to all other industries.
Dr Mahathir said the tourism industry was a clean and environmentally-friendly one.
In 1999, he said travel and tourism generated directly and indirectly internationally 11 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, 200 million jobs and eight per cent of total employment.
Dr Mahathir said the World Tourism Organisation had also projected that the number of tourists travelling worldwide would increase to a billion by 2010 and 1.6 billion people by 2020.
He said the rapid growth of the tourism industry had contributed towards the overall economic development of countries in the Asia Pacific region.
Since those involved in the travel and tourism trade have clearly benefitted, it would only be proper and fitting to expect reciprocity from them in terms of their responsibilities and obligations vis-a-vis the host countries, the natural environment and the consumers of tourism services.
In this respect, Dr Mahathir said the Government had advised those intending to develop tourism projects to adopt a responsible attitude and be sensitive towards environmental conservation.
He said Malaysia had invested a lot of resources in building infrastructure for the tourism sector, a major foreign exchange earner, ranking second after manufacturing.
The Prime Minister said incentives to encourage the development of tourism had been incorporated into the Seventh and Eighth Malaysia Plans.
In 1999, he said, Malaysia registered a total of 7.93 million arrivals and earned US$3.24 billion (RM12.3 billion) in receipts, the highest ever in the history of the industry.
He said the encouraging growth for 1999 continued to be experienced in 2000, with Malaysia achieving a new record of 10.22 million tourist arrivals, ranking third after China and Hong Kong.
This influx of visitors had enabled Malaysia to earn US$4.95 billion (RM18.8 billion) in terms of tourism receipts.
Dr Mahathir was glad to note that many of the issues of concern regarding the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders in the tourism industry which he raised 15 years ago had been addressed in the 10 articles that made up the "Global Code of Ethics for Tourism", formulated recently by the organisation.
He said promoting equitable, responsible and sustainable world tourism in the context of an open and liberalised global economy should be the shared responsibility of all stakeholders in the industry.
The benefits tourism brings to developing countries far outweigh the negative aspects of tourism," he said, adding environmental protection and the preservation of culture could be reconciled with economic development.
This could be done if tourism was carried out on the basis of sustainable development.
"The preservation of an indigenous people's way of live for the sake of the transient tourists, should not deny the former their right to opportunities for a higher standard of living and modern conveniences," he added.
He said since tourism represented an important force for peace by fostering friendship between peoples and communities, tourism should be conducted in harmony with the attributes and traditions of the host communities, with due respect for their laws and customs.
On their part, Dr Mahathir said Governments in the host countries should ensure the minimum of regulations for visitors.
The Press and other media should provide honest and balanced coverage of events and developments in host countries so as to give consumers of tourism services, accurate and reliable information.
The Prime Minister said while cooperation and coordination was crucial for tourism development at the national level, it should also be applied in tourism promotion at the regional and sub-regional levels.
"Since Malaysia is not parochial in its approach to tourism promotion, opting instead for a "prosper thy neighbour policy, it has participated actively and positively in various regional and sub-regional initiatives on tourism with a view to drawing a greater flow of international tourist traffic to the region, and of course to Malaysia."
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