Conceptualizing A National Multi-Dimensional Responsible Rural Tourism Capacity (RRTC) Framework: A Malaysian Approach Towards High Yield Via Sustainable Tourism
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vikneswaran Nair
Taylor’s University, Malaysia
Prof. Dr. Badaruddin Mohamed
Universiti Sains Malaysia
In line with Malaysia’s goal to achieve high-income-nation status by 2020, the Tourism Transformation Plan 2020 with 12 New Key Economic Areas (NKEA) in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), has a bullish target to achieve 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168 billion (US$48 billion) in tourism receipt by 2020. By then, it is projected that tourism will be the most important income contributor for the nation.
Under the big tourism umbrella, ecotourism and rural tourism grows at a rate of 30% per year and Malaysia is known as one of the best ecotourism destinations in the region. Nonetheless, in the last decade, the concept of ecotourism and rural tourism has melded with mainstream tourism to lose its distinctness. The tourism industry’s interest in appearing to be “green” or “sustainable” has increased in exponential proportions over the past year. Although tourism is a profitable business (if managed well), yet the industry is taking its toll on the environment (not to mention the social impact on the local communities). For many people today, going on a ‘green-holiday’ is an increasingly central feature of the travel patterns that has spread across the globe. Consequently, the tourism industry's growth through-out the years has created an increasing amount of stress economically, socially and environmentally as the carrrying capacity of these destinations are not checked or adhered.
Hence, the development of a sustainable rural tourism is dependent on fulfilling the objectives of all stakeholders in the system. The inter relationships among the stakeholders must be fully identified since each stakeholder’s needs may be different from the others. Thus, it is imperative to have a holistic understanding of the impact of these mega development plans on key natural destinations, i.e. ecotourism and small-medium enterprises that make up 75% of the tourism industry in Malaysia. Thus, this proposed study is essential if the tourism industry in Malaysia is to move towards high yield tourism.
This study is segmented into two subprogrammes – Responsible Tourism Framework and Carrying Capacity Framework. This two framework addresses the three pillars of sustainable development - the economy, social and the environment.
For the first subprogramme, the study seek to develop the fundamental knowledge to understand the economic, social and and environmental responsibility, their inicators and models in ten rural tourism destination selected as case studies to develop the management framework. All stakeholder’s perspective are investigated both using quantitative and qualitative approaches. Based on the this fundamental knowledge, a tourism barometer to assess and monitor the economic, socio-cultural and environmental responsible impact of rural tourism destinations using an integrated decision support system is structured. The new responsible model will ensure the optimal use of resources and simultaneously maintain the balanced ecological processes that can help in the conservation of natural heritage. The fundamental indicators that will be extracted from the current practices will track changes in key economic, social and environmental components of the tourism industry, informing the achievements of the sustainability goals and measuring impacts of the tourism industry over time.
For the second supprogramme, the concept of tourism carrying capacity serves as the main concept in a process of seeking (and selecting) ‘appropriate’ (desirable, acceptable, and feasible) types of tourism development. Taking selected rural tourist destinations as main case studies, the second subprogram investigates the physical environment and the socio-economic carrying capacity of tourist destinations. This subprogram seeks to define the indigenous concept of carrying capacity and to come out with the appropriate methodological framework, models and indicators for assessing physical and socio-economic carrying capacity. There are two projects namely the socio-economic carrying capacity, which evaluates the threshold or the limit of acceptable change in the socio-culture and economic activities of the local communities due to tourism development. While increased tourism activities can bring economic benefits, it will also create pressure on the environment, creating various environmental impact. The second project analyses the physical impacts due to tourist activities and the limit of acceptable change that can take place. This subprogram will propose various indicators of carrying capacity and the level of carrying capacity of the sites. Towards the end, the subprogram will also formulate strategies and approaches to manage and increase the capacity of the local populations.
Hence, the main objective of this study is:
1. To discover the various models used in economic, socio-cultural and environmental responsibility and carrying capacity in rural tourism destinations.
2. To investigate all stakeholder’s perspective on the economic, socio-cultural and environmental responsibility and carrying capacity in rural tourism destinations.
3. To establish appropriate economic, socio-cultural and environmental model to measure stakeholders’ impacts in rural tourism destinations.
4. To develop economic, socio-cultural and environmental responsible and carrying capacity indicators for rural tourism destinations.
5. To develop a tourism barometer to assess and monitor the economic, socio-cultural and environmental responsible impact of rural tourism destinations using an integrated decision support system.
In conclusion, this fundamental study plays an important role in innovating new approaches by developing indicators to holistically measure the multi-dimensional relationships between different tourism models and the linkages to local economies and environment in key natural and rural destinations in Malaysia. This collaborative interdisciplinary and multi-institutional study consisting of a variety of stakeholders, government, universities, NGOs, and tourism professionals can play a holistic role in sustaining the fragile rural tourism inustry of Malaysia. After all, if we do not conserve the nature, culture and attractions that tourists come to Malaysia for in the first place, there will be no tourism business in the future.
Keywords: responsible tourism, carrying capacity, tourism barometer, impacts, high yield, rural tourism