Cover Image
close this bookEcotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)
close this folder3. ECOTOURISM
close this folder3.3 Overview of Tourism and Ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific Region
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentTourism in the Region
View the documentFuture Growth in Tourism in the Region
View the documentEcotourism in the Region
View the documentPast and Future Ecotourism Growth in the Region


This section provides quantitative and qualitative information regarding tourism and ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific region. The statistical data are based on World Tourism Organization (WTO) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates. In addition, the WTO figures in particular generally are for international tourism and do not include domestic tourism, which often is quite substantial.

More importantly, readers should remember the inherent limitations of tourism and ecotourism statistics. There are a several problems associated with measuring tourist flows and resulting economic impacts (WTO 1997). One of these problems is the lack of a universal definition of tourism. Thus, the data presented here should be treated with caution.

Caution is even more important when one turns to ecotourism, as definitions of this activity are even less universal. There have been relatively few attempts to develop an operational definition of ecotourism, one that allows the number of ecotourists or their economic impacts to be measured. Therefore, there have been very few estimates of the importance of ecotourism, either in absolute terms or as a proportion of tourism generally. Moreover, for practical reasons, the estimates that have been made typically are based on definitions focused on the nature component, with little or no consideration of the sustainability component. Thus, estimates typically reflect nature tourism rather than ecotourism. In short, currently it is all but impossible to estimate with any accuracy the importance of ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific region.

Given these important caveats, the following information provides an indication of tourism and ecotourism in the region.

Tourism in the Region

As noted by the WTO (1996), the Asia-Pacific region has experienced rapid tourism growth during the past decade. The absolute and relative growth in arrivals and receipts is shown in Figures 1 and 2, respectively.

As illustrated by the figures, tourism in the East Asia and Pacific region has grown much faster than in the South Asia region, and somewhat faster than global tourism. WTO (1997) estimates that the East Asia and Pacific region had 87 million international arrivals in 1996, with South Asia having 4.5 million international arrivals in that period. These arrivals generated US$80.8 billion and US$4.0 billion in receipts, respectively2. The importance of tourism relative to other economic sectors is illustrated by the share of tourism receipts in services and merchandise exports (WTO 1997:18):

2 The Asia-Pacific region thus accounted for about a sixth of world international arrivals and nearly a quarter of receipts in 1996 (editor).


Share of tourism receipts in services

Ratio of tourism receipts to merchandise exports

Northeast Asia



Southeast Asia



Australasia (AU + NZ)



Other Oceania



Figure 1: International Tourism Arrivals (millions)

Figure 2: International Tourism Receipts (US$ billions)

Though tourism plays a particularly important role in Oceania, these figures indicate its importance throughout the East Asia and Pacific region. WTTC (1997) estimates of travel and tourism’s impact on regional output are (includes domestic tourism, amounts in US$ billions):

Northeast Asia


Southeast Asia


South Asia




Within the East Asia and Pacific region, the top ten countries in terms of international tourism receipts, excluding transport, for 1996 are (WTO 1997:51, amounts in US$ billions):

Hong Kong












Korea (Rep.)








The top ten East Asia and Pacific countries in terms of average annual growth rate for receipts, 1986-1996, are (WTO 1997:40, 43, 46):















N. Mariana Is.


Hong Kong




Importantly, the region is not solely a recipient of visitors from outside the region. Indeed, the following figures for market share (percent of total arrivals in East Asia and the Pacific coming from each source region, 1996) indicate that countries within the region generate most of the region’s tourism arrivals (WTO 1997:54):

East Asia/Pacific






South Asia




Middle East


Using a different country grouping, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (1996) reports that 61% of the international arrivals in the Pacific Asia region originated from Asia, up from only 45% a decade ago.

The current importance of intraregional travel is illustrated by the case of Malaysia. As of 1994, the ten largest markets for Malaysia were, in decreasing order (MCAT 1995):

Singapore (by far the largest)
Hong Kong

The future importance of intraregional travel is illustrated by efforts by national tourism organizations and the private sector to increase such travel. For example, Tourism Malaysia’s bimonthly publication Malaysia Tourism summarizes efforts to attract the Japanese (March/April and September/October 1996 issues), Chinese (March/April and July/August 1996), Indonesian (September/October 1996), and Indian (July/August 1996) markets.

Future Growth in Tourism in the Region

As noted by the WTO (1997: 10, 34), the reasons for regional tourism growth include:

· rapidly growing income;
· freer intraregional travel;
· increased leisure time;
· dynamic trade and investment;
· government promotion measures, such as launching “visit years”; and
· political stability in many of the region’s countries.

Many of these factors are expected to continue, with the result being continued tourism growth into the future. Indeed, the East Asia and Pacific region is expected to surpass the Americas to become the world’s number two tourism region by 2010, with 229 million international arrivals (WTO 1996). Of all the WTO regions, East Asia and Pacific is forecast to have the highest average annual growth rate (7.6%) between 1990 and 2010, with South Asia having the second highest rate, at 6.7% (the world rate is forecast at 4.1%).

The growth in arrivals is expected to result from roughly equal growth in the various source markets, including East Asia and the Pacific countries. Intraregional source market growth is particularly expected from the emerging economies of China, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore (WTO 1997).

The WTTC (1997) estimates that regional tourism output will increase by the following percentages in the ten years from 1997 to 2007:

Northeast Asia


Southeast Asia


South Asia




Ecotourism in the Region

There has been much discussion and debate regarding the size and growth of the ecotourism market. Although supporters of ecotourism, or any other phenomenon, like to provide large estimates, others question this growth in some contexts (Blamey 1995). Estimates of market size depend on the definition used to describe the market. As noted above, the lack of a widely-accepted operational definition of ecotourism hinders estimates of the ecotourism market and prevents effective comparisons across sites. Moreover, because the sustainability component of ecotourism definitions is particularly difficult to measure, most existing estimates are based solely on the nature-based component. Therefore, most estimates of ecotourism really are estimates of nature tourism.

Keeping in mind that estimates should be treated with caution, Ceballos-Lascurin (1993) reports a WTO estimate that nature tourism generates 7% of all international travel expenditure (c.f., Lindberg 1994). Campbell (1994) reports that approximately 20% of all foreign tourists to Thailand (in 1990) visited nature tourism sites. In some countries, such as Australia, the percentage is even higher (Blamey 1995). Assuming that the Asia-Pacific region follows the global pattern, 7% might be used as an extremely rough estimate of the region’s international tourism that can be viewed as ecotourism, with several countries exhibiting higher proportions.

Lew (1997) divides ecotourism in the region into three zones: 1) South and Southeast Asia, which together comprise the major international destination region, 2) Australia and New Zealand, which have substantial domestic ecotourism industries, as well as a secondary international market, and 3) the peripheral ecotourism areas, including China and Japan to the north, and the Pacific islands to the east.

A thorough evaluation of ecotourism offerings and experiences across the region’s countries was not possible given limited project resources. However, one ecotourism operator with many years of experience in Southeast Asia ranks countries in the following decreasing order in terms of ecotourism experiences: Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Several other countries are not ranked and do not play major ecotourism roles, including: Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Currently, most nature tourists at some sites and for some activities are foreigners, typically from North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. For example, Chudintra (1993) reports that 90% of Thailand’s jungle tour clients are foreigners. However, domestic visitation predominates at many sites. For example, Campbell (1994) reports that about 90% of visitors to Indonesia’s national parks are domestic tourists, while Chudintra reports that the percentage of such visitors in Thailand increased from 58% in 1986 to 85% in 1990. Further information on adventure and ecotourism source markets is provided in Aderhold (1996) and Wight (1996a; 1996b).

The characteristics of ecotourists and ecotourism vary widely across sites in the region. Nonetheless, Taman Negara in Malaysia illustrates some of these characteristics (DWNP 1996a, 1996b; Stecker 1996). From 1984 to 1993, visitor numbers increased 360%, from 8,200 to 30,000, respectively. Numbers have continued to increase, reaching 36,924 in 1994 and 43,491 in 1995 (an 18% growth rate from 1994 to 1995). Of the 1995 visitors, 48% were Malaysian, 8% Singaporean, 7% British, and 7% German.

The majority of the visitors were male (58%), young (89% under 40 years old), university educated (71%) and of high income. Motivations for visiting the park include:

· To see and experience rain forests (45% of respondents)
· For a holiday (16%)
· To get new experience (10%)
· For relaxation and sightseeing (8%)
· To see wildlife (8%)
· For recreation and adventure (6%) and
· To enjoy the camping life (3%).

Activities undertaken by visitors include (in decreasing order of frequency) jungle trekking, birdwatching, swimming, caving, visiting indigenous forest dwellers, botany, mountain climbing, and fishing. Somewhat more than a third of the visitors were on pre-arranged package tours from Kuala Lumpur, while somewhat less than two-thirds made their own travel arrangements.

Past and Future Ecotourism Growth in the Region

Though estimates of ecotourism’s growth are rare, due to the definitional problem, most observers feel that ecotourism has grown faster than tourism generally during the past several years. Based on a survey of ecotourism operators in the region, Lew (1997) found that average annual growth rates have been steady at 10% to 25% over the past few years, and many are projecting higher growth in coming years.

There are various explanations for ecotourism’s growth, including:

· increasing environmental awareness and interest, including the desire to be perceived by others as environmentally sensitive;

· increased media exposure to natural areas around the world;

· related to the above two, a desire to see natural areas before they disappear;

· increasing dissatisfaction with traditional tourism destinations and products, and a desire for more educative and challenging vacations;

· desire to go to novel destinations, sometimes as a way to “outdo” others (e.g., to be the first person one knows who has been to Antarctica); and

· easier access to remote ecotourism destinations through development of air routes, roads, and other infrastructure.

Insofar as the increased motivations to experience and preserve natural environments stem in part from more fundamental changes in societal values (Blamey 1995; Inglehart 1990), the continuation of these fundamental changes, particularly in developing countries, should lead to continued growth in demand for ecotourism. Many observers believe that the growth rate for ecotourism will be higher than for tourism generally. Thus, assuming an increase in the proportion of tourism represented by ecotourism from 7% to 10% and assuming that the WTO forecast of 229 million international arrivals by 2010 is accurate, an extremely rough estimate of the region’s international ecotourism arrivals for 2010 would be 22.9 million. To this, one must add the substantial number of domestic visitors to natural areas.

The ecotourism market is expected to evolve over time. Much of the ecotourism growth probably will stem from intraregional travel (Choegyal 1996; Shukla 1996; WTO 1996; Wylie 1994). As noted above, growth in intraregional travel is expected for tourism generally as incomes rise and infrastructure improves. Moreover, intraregional ecotourism in particular is expected to grow as regional population centres become increasingly crowded and polluted, and as increased wealth and education lead to greater knowledge of, and interest in, the natural environment.

As noted in Section 4, growth in Asian ecotourism source markets will affect the type of experience sought by visitors. In general, it is expected that Asian ecotourists will travel in larger groups and will demand a higher degree of comfort than is the case for western ecotourists. They also may be more interested in ecotourism day trips while lodging and dining in comfortable resorts. An example of this is the Juldis Khao Yai resort and golf course on the border of Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. Asian visitors (mostly Japanese) flock to see the park, play golf, and stay in luxury in the middle of jungle surroundings.

Evolution probably also will result from demographic changes occurring in society. For example, in source countries the “babyboomer” population is ageing, which will increase leisure time amongst this group. However, the group may require ecotourism experiences that are less physically demanding, more easily accessible, and with more comfortable facilities.

In addition, various factors affect the types of ecotourism experiences sought. For example, substantial media attention has been focused on the loss of tropical rainforests, and many tourists wish to visit them partly out of a concern that they may be lost entirely. Future interest in forest visitation may depend on continued media coverage and public concern about forest issues.

Other trends, such as the increased popularity of SCUBA diving, may affect forest-related ecotourism to varying degrees, depending on individual site characteristics. For example, forest areas near dive sites may benefit from add-on trips to the forest by divers. On the other hand, some forest areas may lose visitation as potential visitors choose diving-oriented trips rather than terrestrial-oriented trips. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to identify future trends of this sort.

Several other factors, many of them external, may affect demand at individual sites and countries (Brandon 1996; Laarman and Durst 1993; Lindberg and Huber 1993). For example, political or economic instability may cause strong decreases in visitation, an event that has at times affected tourism demand for many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

In summary, historic data, trends, and expectations indicate that:

· tourism makes a substantial contribution to the region’s economy;

· tourism has experienced rapid growth in the region (though less so in South Asia), and this growth is expected to continue;

· ecotourism in the region and globally has grown faster than tourism generally, and this probably will continue over the next several years;

· domestic and intraregional visitors are an important component of the region’s ecotourism, and this importance is expected to increase in the future; and

· ecotourism demand will evolve over time, and the region’s ecotourism sites will need to adapt to these changes.