ASEAN NTOs should improve community-based project development, address overtourism: ATRA

Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market

In ASEAN Tourism Research Association’s (ATRA) meeting with regional NTOs on Monday, recommendations have been made to prioritise the well-being of local communities in tourism policies impacting community-based tourism (CBT) and to diversify tourism across more destinations to resolve the scourge of overtourism.

ATRA’s honorary treasurer, Puvaneswaran Kunasekaran, told TTG Asia that recommendations relating to CBT included capacity training for local communities so they become self-reliant, and creation of niche segments such as gastronomy tours that are initiated by the communities themselves.

Bangkok is one of the destinations in Asia-Pacific suffering from overtourism Chatuchak Weekend Market crowded with tourists pictured

Citing examples of successful CBT projects in the region, Puvaneswaran said that some of the aboriginal Mah Meri women on Carey Island in Selangor, Malaysia have formed a collective known as Tompoq Tompoh, and have been selling their handcrafted items online and at the Mah Meri Cultural Village.

He said: “They are the most successful aboriginal group practicing community-based tourism in Peninsular Malaysia.”

Another example exists in eastern Sabah where an eco-tourism cooperative of the Batu Puteh community in Lower Kinabatangan River was able to reduce the poverty rate of the locals, enhance local community participation and protect the natural environment.

On the flip side, Puvaneswaran, who is also a senior lecturer at the School of Hospitality, Tourism & Events at Taylor’s University Malaysia, warned that poorly managed CBT projects can limit benefits to the very communities they are meant to support.

Illustrating his point, he referenced Mabul Island in Sabah, Malaysia which is a popular dive destination. While local travel suppliers are thriving, the local population remains poor.

Overtourism is the other matter that warranted immediate attention, he noted, pointing to Bali, Bangkok, Phuket and Langkawi as destinations suffering the affliction.

Puvaneswaran said authorities must promote other destinations so as to disperse tourists to other parts of the country, a move that would also spread commercial benefits to more locals.

He said overtourism in a destination must first be declared by the local authorities before action can be taken.

“But there are (congested) places that are undeclared, such as Cameron Highlands in Malaysia during the school holidays. It takes about two hours to travel a distance of 6km from Brinchang to Blue Valley due to traffic jams caused by the many small shops selling souvenirs, flowers and vegetables along the road. The local population that is not involved in the businesses are inconvenienced as a result,” he said.

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