Speaking at the opening of PATA Destination Experience Forum and Mart 2023 in Kuching, Sarawak on June 22, PATA chair Peter Semone expressed the urgent need for action as the tourism and hospitality sector embarks on the road to recovery.
He said: “Coming out of Covid, there are only two options (for the tourism industry), which are to ignore the environmental and social consequences of mass tourism in a business-as-usual manner; or seize the opportunity to recalibrate how we measure tourism success and account for its invisible burden.”
“As we look towards the future, we need to take concrete actions and avoid the mistakes of the past.”
He explained: “Option one, we can bury our heads in the sand, (and try to) return to the boom times that culminated in record arrivals across the globe in 2019 before Covid. We can ignore the environmental and social consequences of mass tourism and bolster our balance sheets in a business-as-usual manner. Unfortunately, (learning from travelling around) many of us have chosen (this option).”
The other option was to seize this opportunity that came out through the pandemic by recalibrating how the industry measures success.
Semone emphasised the need to account for the invisible burden of tourism and urged stakeholders to consider the costs associated with growth in arrivals and revenues. He further stressed that it is time to reassess how tourism’s impact is evaluated and to redefine success beyond outdated metrics such as tourist arrivals, expenditure, and length of stay.
“We also must think about how we tax tourism for the use of the destination’s commons. How do we expect actors across the supply and demand value chains to engage in tourism activities responsibly and sustainably?
“We always worry about the supply side. What about the behaviour of the tourists? Do we not have to make sure that the tourists are behaving in a way that’s appropriate for our destinations? How do we ensure that that’s true going forward in the future and that tourism continues to be an asset rather than to be a burden on local communities and the way that local people live? It is also important to remember that without peace, tourism cannot exist” he opined.
Sharzede Datu Salleh Askor, CEO of Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) shared her thoughts on implementing sustainability that works, adding that it was the responsibility of all parties.
“There must be consistency – the government of today and the future must be consistent. The second thing is that there must be clarity of what it is that we want to do so that we can crystallise things.”
She shared that by maintaining consistency, providing clarity, and achieving crystallisation in all aspects, these factors will enable those who pass on this information to have a precise understanding and the appropriate mindset for advancing together as a unified force to achieve goals.
On the issue on over tourism, Sharzede said: “We are very fortunate that Sarawak has never looked into mass tourism. We have always looked into niche marketing and therefore sustainability (is something) we have been practicing (and is now becoming) more prominent.”
Sarawak started with green tourism in 2011 and embarked on digital economic transformation in 2018.
“Now with everything more focused towards sustainability, it helps us to accelerate and to (further) intensify our activities and initiative towards that area,” she concluded.