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close this bookEcotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)
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According to Hurst (1990), it is difficult to provide a discussion of “Malaysian” forest policy or use because of the diversity of policy contexts that exist, especially given the relative autonomy of the subnational level of government. Though the factors that have impacted on deforestation have included poverty, economic institutions, and public policy, their specific roles are much more debated.

However, it is clear that wood production is a major focus of forestry in this country, which generates wood-products exports in excess of RM 13 billion (US$5.2 billion) (Nair 1996). Overlogging of up to 300% of set quotas has been recognized and blamed on state government needs for timber sale royalties. Impacts of this type of logging on indigenous people have also been recognized (for example, Hurst 1990).

On 1 November 1996, Sabah partially lifted its ban on log exports because state timber revenue has continued to dwindle from a high of 65% of total revenue (Nair 1996). Despite the obvious economic motivation for logging, there also has been increased attention given to ecotourism in forest, as well as marine, areas.

In 1995, there were 7.5 million tourist arrivals in Malaysia, with over half of these coming from neighbouring Singapore (Tourism Malaysia fact sheet and Tourism Malaysia (1997)). Tourism receipts totalled RM9.2 billion (US$3.7 billion). Tourist arrivals grew 50% during the Sixth Malaysia Plan (1991-1995). Continued growth is expected, with Seventh Malaysia Plan (1996-2000) forecasts that arrivals and receipts will total 12.5 million and RM15.7 billion, respectively, by the year 2000.

Future growth is expected to focus on increased visitor volumes and return visits, as well as targeting of higher spending and longer staying tourists. Some of the strategies for the Seventh Plan include:

· diversification of product and services, including ecotourism, agro-tourism, and rural homestays;

· effective promotion and marketing;

· greater private sector investment and participation in innovative tourism products;

· increased involvement of local populations;

· improved access to and within the country;

· provision of infrastructure and amenities at designated sites: and

· enhanced skills training.

As in Indonesia, Malaysia’s tourism products and services are still aimed at mass tourists. However, products and services for ecotourism are increasing, awareness of ecotourism principles and potential is increasing, and the government has emphasized ecotourism through development of the National Ecotourism Policy.

The national Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism (MOCAT) and the state governments are responsible for developing and promoting tourism generally. Natural areas are managed by a variety of agencies, including the Wildlife and National Parks Department, Sabah Parks, and the National Parks and Wildlife Office of the Forest Department (Sarawak).

Though there have been annual variations, visitation levels at selected natural areas like Kinabalu Park, Taman Negara, and Telok Bahang Recreation Forest have generally shown increases, often substantial, during the 1975 to 1991 period (Mohd Nor and Wayakone n.d.). Visitation data for Taman Negara were presented in Section 3.3. Other parks receive much higher levels, with Kinabalu recording 301,924 visits and Sepilok Forest Reserve (known for its orangutan rehabilitation centre) recording 71,549 visitors in 1992 (actual visitation is thought to be even higher; Empau and Ayim 1994).

Mohd Nor and Wayakone (n.d.) estimate that 7% of all Malaysian visitors can be viewed as ecotourists, with a higher percentage in Sabah and Sarawak. They note that “tropical rainforests are the country’s greatest ecotourism assets due to their unique and special biodiversity and the great concern of the world community of the disappearance of these forests.” Many forests are easily accessible, with, for example, tourists able to visit the rainforests of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) within an hour’s drive of Kuala Lumpur. At FRIM, visitors are able to walk in the forest canopy along one of three canopy walkways in the country.