Inbound agents in Malaysia are seeing a niche but potential market in catering to European tourists’ rising interest in participating in wildlife conservation and charitable causes during their holidays in South-east Asia.
Alex Lee, CEO at Ping Anchorage Travel & Tours, said demand has grown at an average of 10 per cent annually over the last three years, with tourists mainly hailing from Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, France and Switzerland. Last year, the company handled around 3,000 volunteer tourists, mainly from Central Europe.
Bornean Sun Bear. Credit: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
“The market is still niche and we would like to grow it organically by working with outbound agents from Europe and OTAs,” said Lee, who described such tourists as high yield and willing to spend on food and accommodation, and donate their time and money to the causes they believe in.
According to Lee, most voluntourists are FITs, above 35 and comprise small groups of less than 10 people. They typically spend one to three days of their total stay, which ranges from one to two weeeks, on volunteer activities.
The Terengganu-based Ping Anchorage works with WWF-Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and the Terengganu state government to promote mangrove replanting, and sea turtles and terrapin conservation at Setiu Wetlands. It also promotes tree replanting at Lake Kenyir and visits to meet aboriginal people.
Discovery Overland Holidays likewise has seen a 30 per cent increase in volunteer holidays between 2015 and 2016, senior product development/contracting manager Kingston Khoo told TTG Asia.
The company works closely with NGOs such as The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Malaysian Nature Society and Malaysian Primatological Society to develop programmes, which include opportunities for visitors to do light maintenance work at the facilities as well as feeding the animals and cleaning their cages.
“Our main challenge is finding conservationists and activists who are passionate in their area of expertise to share their knowledge with our guests, as this will make the programme very meaningful,” said Khoo. “Most (guides) are volunteers and the challenge is to arrange programmes to fit their schedule.”
Managing guests’ expectations is hence key to a successful programme, Authentic Borneo director Marco Wunsch pointed out. He said: “We explain to our overseas partners who will then highlight in their brochures that accommodation in conservation areas are basic and some programmes such as night walks to see the slow loris are off the normal walking trails."