Green taxes not the way to push for sustainable tourism: M’sia minister

YET another prominent industry leader has hit out against the imposing of taxes on travel to protect the environment, citing viable alternatives such as the use of positive incentives.

Malaysia’s tourism minister Ng Yen Yen called the tax approach “simplistic” when she was speaking at last weekend’s PATA Annual Conference themed Building the Business Beyond Profits.

“If they should do that in the West, the East can do that…(but) I think it would be very unhealthy competition,” she said, referring to taxes such as the European Union Emissions Trading System.

She added that Malaysia’s stand was to incentivise instead of disincentivise, which could mean, for example, an operator pays less tax for promoting cycling tours.

The country’s ecotourism policy that stipulates no more than 50 per cent of land can be developed has also helped to preserve the destination’s “pristine floating jungle”, Ng said. This has resulted in the NTO turning to other man-made products such as art and shoes (and in turn launching festivals around that) to draw tourists instead.

She listed more examples of Malaysia’s sustainable tourism initiatives such as its Plant a Tree project, which has seen over 10,000 trees planted by tourists. Organised for guests who participate in homestays, the partnership with villages for accommodation is also one way the country supports rural communities.

“Profit cannot be the answer for the future,” Ng said, urging industry stakeholders to focus instead on “sustainable tourism and social responsibility”, topics that were also given an airing during PATA’s two-day conference.

Closing session speaker Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Canada-based tour operator G Adventures, pointed out that travel business owners had the opportunity to extend a helping hand to communities in need, while this was also one way they could engage customers beyond products.

“All of you have brochures that talk about the hotels and services you supply…Customers have long gone past that. (They) want to identify with your brand and what you stand for,” he said.

His company, which has a non-profit arm called Planeterra, has hired street children in India as tour guides and restored vision to the blind in Cambodia, among other initiatives.

Said Poon Tip: “We create stories about our brand that transcend our product and (talk about) how we change people’s lives by creating happiness in the community.”

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