Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Water crisis looming Malaysia: By Dr. Vikneswaran Nair

Your article, “Asia faces worsening water crisis” (The Star, Oct 13, 2010) is referred. I truly hope the article will ring some ‘alarm-bells’ in Malaysia.

Indeed Asia is facing a worsening water crisis that will severely impact food production especially with the rising population. The population of Asia has increased over the past decade on the same trend as the global population which has tripled in the 20th century but water consumption went up sevenfold. Sadly, the technology to increase water production has been stagnant over the past decade. Developing new water resources are increasingly expensive to develop.

Hence, the only solution to sustain the need of the current population and for the generations to come is to conserve and to control the overzealous deforestation that is wiping out the very resources that is required to generate water. It is alarming to note from the report of the Asia Development Bank that the water footprint in our towns and cities, in our irrigation systems, our energy production systems and in industry in general is extravagant. As populations grow and water use per person rises, demand for freshwater is soaring. Yet the supply of freshwater is finite and threatened by pollution. Agenda 21 of the Rio Declaration 1992 states that effectively integrated management of water resources is important to all socio-economic sectors.

Your article early this year on, “Global crisis of water scarcity” (The Star, March 1, 2010) reporte

d that a decade ago, it was predicted that a third of the world’s population would be facing water scarcity by 2025. Unfortunately, this threshold has already been reached. Today two billion people live in countries that are water-stressed and by 2025, two-thirds of the world population may suffer water stress, unless current trends alter.

Over here in Malaysia, we need to ring this ‘alarm-bells’ as well. There are already signs that are showing the catastrophe that Malaysia is heading if various stakeholders do not do their part to manage the water efficiently. This includes the mass population of the country. We need to stop wasting so much of the water.

Water resource demand has surpassed sustainable levels of supply in many areas as unbalanced economic development continues to degrade the water quality and the natural environment. Despite the well laid out plan in the Ninth Malaysia Plan in rehabilitation and modernisation of water supply systems, water resources development, water treatment and distribution and inter-state raw water transfer, the problem of water shortage in the country still remain at the critical level.

Malaysia is tropical and lush with enough water for its needs on an annual basis but tap water shortages still occur and water cuts are part of everyday life. The bottom line is people do not want to suffer a repeat of the 1998 crisis, which forced many hotels, restaurants and laundries to close down.

There has also been large amount of unplanned and unsustainable development in the highland forests in Malaysia, including inappropriate road building and excessive highland resort development. Excessive clearing of forests has led to the siltation of rivers and contamination of the water supply. Forest clearance has resulted in frequent occurrences of soil erosion and landslides. The quality of water gradually deteriorates due to siltation and pollution from the construction work of the highland roads, while poorly constructed roads contribute to soil erosion and water pollution.

It is amazing that in a country with high rainfall like Malaysia we maybe hit with severe water shortage if we keep taking for granted that water is in abundance. Levels at the dams continue to fall. It is quite obvious that poor management of our water resources is one of the main reasons for the crisis. El Nino has had little to do with this.

The catchment areas no longer retain water, as they should. Many reasons can be cited, probably all arising from lack of coordination between the state agencies. While one agency designates the catchment areas as reserves, another approves logging concessions on them. Yet others allow the development of forest-depleting golf courses and quarrying in catchment areas. Industries with potential to contaminate rivers that feed reservoirs are allowed to operate upstream. It is time to take a hard look at the utilization of land in and around catchment areas and come up with a clear and sensible policy.

The generous use of drinking water and leakage in pipelines and taps are among the major causes of water wastage, amounting to millions of litres per day in Malaysia. The use of drinking water in gardening, car washing and toilet flushing also add to the wastage of drinking water. Brackish water or treated sewage water can be used as substitutes for potable water for these purposes. Another cause of the problem is the mishandling of wastewater from raw sewage, industrial waste, and agriculture runoffs, which increase the contamination in natural sources of fresh water. Sewerage water, therefore, ought not be allowed to fall into the sea or rivers, but should be treated properly, and stored outside the cities or villages to be supplied back to the residents for use. The recycling of sewerage water and its storage outside the cities will raise ground water levels, and the treated solid waste is a natural fertilizer. While recycling sewer water and its accumulation may create waterlogging in some areas and increase the salinity of the soil, in most cases it will raise the water level and result in fertile soil.

Waterlogging and salinity may be controlled through the use of modern scientific technology.

The water wastage in the urban is more significant than in the rural. Thus, an effective and efficient urban water management system that is able to reduce water loss and increase water-use efficiency is the way forward. Hence, in the short-term water restriction mechanism must be put in place while a long term water conservation plan is a must. Water pricing need to be reevaluated as we are taking for granted on this precious resources. The water use efficiency need to be improved while efficient water recycling and harvesting technology need to be supported and encouraged.

Over the past few years, the Malaysian environment has continued to deteriorate and will further deteriorate if all parties do not take this crisis serious. The rapid growth prior to the economic crisis and the present economic recovery, whilst raising the GNP and incomes, has had a toll on the environment. Uncontrolled growth with scant regard for ecological principles continues to be the order of the day. Education and enforcement are two vital approaches that must be used to change the mindset of the people. Only then can the understanding of essential link between polluted water resources, potable water, flood woes and good management can go hand in hand. The world needs to understand that at the pace we are wasting water today, the Third World War will be fought over water in this century. I certainly do not want to be in that generation when water becomes as precious as oil.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vikneswaran Nair
Taylor’s University

Subang Jaya

Friday, October 1, 2010

Kenyir is doomed with DFZ idea: By Dr. Vikneswaran Nair

I am totally shocked and baffled with the news that Tasik Kenyir has been officially declared a Duty Free Zone(DFZ) as reported in “Kenyir is now a DFZ” (The Star, Sept 30, 2010). What is even baffling is the Finance Ministry has already officially endorsed this new status on Sept 21 as indicated by the Terengganu Menteri Besar.

After all the hue and cry over the closure of nine dive sites on the tropical islands of Tioman and Redang until the end of October (The Star, July 22, 2010), it was supposed to be a wake-up call for all stakeholders to play their part in an attempt to relieve stress on the fragile marine ecosystems in the coast of Terengganu. These popular dive sites in the South China Sea was hit by coral bleaching and the closure would give the coral a chance to regenerate and remove stress caused by tourism-related activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling.

But now, Kenyir, another popular eco-tourism site is being transformed into a DFZ. Why must an eco-tourism site that is meant to attract responsible eco-tourist be transformed into a mass tourism destination by making it a DFZ? It make no business and environmental sense to destroy the eco-system of Tasik Kenyir by transforming the destination with duty-free complex, shophouses, condominiums and Custom Department complex. Kenyir indeed has rich eco-system and bio-diversity with habitat to more than 8,000 species of flowers, 2,500 species of plants and trees as well as more than 300 species of freshwater fish. Carrying out an environmental impact assessment is not the easy solution for a project of this nature to be imported into a fragile environment like Kenyir.

When will Malaysia ever learn their lesson? In the recently presented Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), the tourism lab presentation highlighted the recognition and preservation of the bio-diversity in West and East Malaysia. And out of the blue, this totally contradictory plan is announced to transform an eco-destination to become shopping paradise. If this is part of the blueprint of the ETP in moving the country to achieve a high income nation by 2020, then sadly I am very disappointed with this new development.

Development of mega-resorts, hotels, condominiums, shopping malls and other duty-free complex in natural areas in the name of green tourism, eco-tourism or as a catalyst to attract mass tourist is indeed green-washing! Such mammoth artificially landscaped projects tend to irretrievably wipe out the flora and fauna and sometimes even totally vanishing the entire eco-system of Kenyir.

Malaysia is blessed with breathtaking islands along with white sandy beaches and clear waters, which generates significant tourism receipt for the nation. Tourism growth in Malaysia has been assisted, to an extent, by the abundant and rich coral reefs and shallow tropical marine resources in this region. By turning Kenyir into DFZ will result in the destination busting its carrying capacity and limit of acceptable change. Hence, it the long term, the largest man-made lake in South-East Asia will just remain in our memories with no chance for our future generations to enjoy the tranquility of this beautiful lake destination. The environment is the resource base for tourism; without protection, the natural attraction that brought the tourist to Kenyir in the first place will be lost.

Finally, I would like to urge the Terengganu State Government and the Finance Ministry to re-look into this idea of turning Kenyir into DFZ. Already, there are increased numbers' of visitors (eco-tourist) to almost all the marine park islands in Malaysia, as a result of increased promotion and green-washing done by various parties in the pretext of generating economic revenue. When demand rises, further development implemented in the areas that were previously untouched could cause extensive damage. Once destinations become popular, there is often no way to control development activities.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Greening Tourism? Is this Another Act of Green-Washing?: Dr. Vikneswaran Nair

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. Has the tourism industry's growth through-out the years created an increasing amount of stress on the environment? Is “eco-tourism” and “green-tourism” considered as sustainable or being responsible?

As argued by Pleumarom in 1995, in the classic article, “Eco-tourism or Eco-terrorism?”, eco-tourism or green-tourism can be just as damaging as honest hedonistic holiday-making. Critics of the green tourism idea regards it as ‘eco-facade’ – a tactic concealing the mainstream tourism industry’s consumptive and exploitative practices by ‘greening’ it.

Green tourism is indeed the fastest growing sub-sector of the tourism industry. Similarly, eco-tourism is becoming the fastest growing form of tourism in Malaysia, currently making up about 10% of the country's tourism revenue (EcoMalaysia, 2010). But there are well-founded concerns that green-washing is instead slowly shadowing the eco-tourism industry whereby this concept of responsible tourism is seem lacking in adequate scientific foundations, and is not viable as a solution to the global environmental problem.

In Malaysia, the prefix, “eco” which represent “being green” or “environmental friendly” may sound benign but there seem to be an over-use of this terms to denote an idea of being ‘hip’, ‘cool’ and ‘friendly’ to the environment. This can lead some tourism businesses to use this label as a marketing tool, merely paying lip service to environmentalism by declaring they are green with no action taken to ensure they are. It is undeniable that green travel has gone from being a trend for the more well-informed traveler to being part of mainstream consumer and corporate culture.

Consequently, there are serious impacts to the expropriation of virgin territories which include wildlife parks, national parks or other wilderness areas. Development of mega-resorts, hotels, condominiums, shopping malls and golf courses in natural areas in the name of green tourism or eco-tourism to attract mass tourist is indeed green-washing! Such mammoth artificially landscaped projects tend to irretrievably wipe out the flora and fauna and sometimes even totally vanishing the entire eco-system.

Malaysia is blessed with breathtaking islands along with white sandy beaches and clear waters, which generates significant tourism receipt for the nation. Tourism growth in Malaysia has been assisted, to an extent, by the abundant and rich coral reefs and shallow tropical marine resources in this region. Recently, the impact of exceeding carrying capacity was seen in some of the major dive sites in the country. The closure of nine dive sites on the tropical islands of Tioman and Redang until the end of October (The Star, 2010) was indeed a wake-up call for all stakeholders to play their part in an attempt to relieve stress on the fragile marine ecosystems. These popular dive sites in the South China Sea was hit by coral bleaching blamed on global warming. The closure would give the coral a chance to regenerate and remove stress caused by tourism-related activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling. Hence, if these dive sites are not serious in enforcing carrying capacity, Malaysia may lose their Mother Nature that has attracted many eco-tourist to our top diving sites of the world.

Reports from EcoMalaysia (2010) further highlights that although Malaysia has a wide range of natural assets that makes eco-tourism a highly beneficial, sustainable and long-term form of tourism, there are enormous concerns for the future of eco-tourism, as many of the well known eco-tourism sites in Malaysia are now so over-used. Some of the examples are Wang Kelian in Perlis (limestone, caves and forests), Kenyir Catchments in Trengganu (lake, boating, trekking and fishing), Pulau Kukup in Johor (mangroves, wildlife, and seafood), Lower Kinabatangan River in Sabah (proboscis monkeys and wildlife), Pulau Redang in Trengganu (fish, coral reefs and an attractive marine environment), Pulau Sipadan in Sabah (fish, coral reefs and an attractive marine environment), and many others. One of the best eco-tourism practices have been displayed in the Matang Mangroves Forest in Perak, the Frangipani Resort & Spa, Langkawi and the Golden Palm Tree Resort & Spa, Sepang Goldcoast (see Box 1). However, there is still lack of best eco-tourism practices displayed in many of the marine parks in Malaysia.

Box 1: Golden Palm Tree Resort & Spa, Sepang Goldcoast, Selangor D.E.

Golden Palm Tree Resort and Spa stretches out from the Sepang coastline, almost a kilometer into the sheltered waters of the Straits of Malacca with 392 luxuriously appointed sea villas that shape a palm tree. With minimum impact to the environment and touted to be the first eco-friendly sea-hotel in the world, the resort has adopted a balanced management of the environment and development. Golden Palm Tree is a 5-star haven of peace, perfect for eco adventure, non-motorized water sports, family-friendly fun or to just relax and unwind. The resort has taken serious consideration of the fragility of the environment in the resort development and the day-to-day operations to avoid any green-washing. Maintaining the environment is critical for the success of the resort. Some of the green-initiatives adopted at Golden Palm Tree include:

· The use of the “alang-alang” thatching in the design of the roof of the sea villas and the resort in general to keep the resort naturally cooling with insulation against heat.

· Every villa comes with a ceiling fan and an air-conditioner, so you can opt to use either one. The full-length windows also allow for natural light and ensure one enjoys the different elements of nature like fresh morning sea breeze or the gushing cold wind at night.

· Besides periodic third-party water analysis and immaculate care for waste management with German technology, the developer has taken themselves to task for the maintenance of the public beach near the resort.

· Herbal or eco-friendly toiletries are used in the sea villas for all guests to avoid any form of chemical pollution.

· Only non-motorized sports are available for all guests at the resort, namely kayaking, wind-surfacing and sailing.

· Bicycles and battery operated buggy is used for all movements within the resort.

· The villas are all erected on concrete stilts without using concrete at the base. By doing so, the seabed is not harmed and will attract more sea habitat and marine life.

· The resort is surrounded by large stretches of mangrove forest formed over time and untouched by man. Guests get to go on eco-tours of these mangroves, fishing trips as well as agro-tours to the nearby plantation.

· The management tries to eliminate excessive washing of towels and linen by leaving notes made from recycled paper encouraging the guest to reuse. All staff name cards are also made with recyclable paper.

· To get the local community involved, surrounding villages around the resort are employed to work at the resort´s food and beverage outlets, at the spa and in the housekeeping department. To also assist economically, dragon-fruit grown in Sungai Pelek and its surrounding areas is used abundantly in the buffet spreads and restaurants here.

So, how do we make amends to ensure this biggest industry of the world (tourism) do not destroy the eco-system? One such approach is by understanding the concept of “Responsible Tourism” whereby travel aims to reduce the disastrous trail by promoting sustainable management practices at the operational level.

As propagated by Wild Asia (2007), a social-enterprise group based in Kuala Lumpur:

“…Today's tourists are people with a genuine interest about their holiday destination and are aware that their presence can have adverse affects on both the lifestyle of the locals and the environment. Responsible tourism provides this guarantee and assures the holidaymaker a guilt free trip”.

The environment is the resource base for tourism; without protection, the natural attraction that brought the tourist in the first place will be lost. As national knowledge assets and organisational innovation become the key factor in determining economic strength, tourism must learn, adapt and adopt.

Similarly, across the globe and now in Malaysia the term “green-hotels” is also mushrooming. It describes hotels that strive to be more ‘environmentally friendly’ through the efficient use of energy, water, and materials while providing quality services (Alexander, 2002). Green-hotels conserve and preserve by saving water, reducing energy use, and reducing solid waste. They have seen benefits such as reduced costs and liabilities, high return and low-risk investments, increased profits, and positive cash flows. Identifying these benefits and incentives has allowed the popularity of green-hotels to grow. Thus, green-hotels should not just appear as a green-washing exercise or a corporate social responsibility but an incentive for cost saving in the long term while doing good for the future generations to enjoy the environment as we do today.

In 2008, ASEAN showed its care and concern about the environment by uplifting its hotel industry standard in the form of the ASEAN Green-Hotel Recognition Awards (ASEAN, 2009) (see Box 1) presented to ASEAN properties with outstanding efforts in environmental conservation. In January 2010, Ten Malaysian hotels received the ASEAN Green-Hotel Award at a ceremony during the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2010, out of the total 155 hotel recipients for the year (The Malay Mail, 2010). The Malaysian hotels that excelled in the award include The Andaman Langkawi (Kedah), Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah), Mines Wellness Hotel (Selangor), Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort (Tuaran, Sabah), Renaissance Kuala Lumpur, Hotel Melia Kuala Lumpur, Nexus Resort Karambunai (Sabah), Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Penang, Shangri-La's Hotel Kuala Lumpur and The Frangipani Langkawi Resort and Spa.

Box 2: ASEAN Green-Hotel Standard – Major Evaluation Criteria

1. Environmental policy and actions for hotel operation.

2. Use of Green products.

3. Collaboration with the community and local organizations.

4. Human resources development.

5. Solid waste management.

6. Energy efficiency.

7. Water efficiency.

8. Air quality management (indoor and outdoor).

9. Noise pollution control.

10. Waste water treatment and management.

11. Toxic and chemical substances disposal management.

In conclusion, greening tourism under the name of eco-tourism or any other synonym can have the same harmful effects as that of mass tourism if all the stakeholders in the tourism industry do not strictly adhere to the precepts of eco-tourism or responsible tourism. As highlighted by EcoMalaysia (2010), there are increased numbers' of visitors (eco-tourist) to almost all the marine park islands in Malaysia, as a result of increased promotion and green-washing done by various parties in the pretext of generating economic revenue. When demand rises, further development implemented in the areas that were previously untouched could cause extensive damage. Once destinations become popular, there is often no way to control development activities.

Thus, environmental destruction becomes irreversible and gradually destroys the natural resources on which the tourism industry actually depends. Hence, all stakeholders must play their role and act now. A Chinese proverb says that the longest journey begins with a single step. Let this be the first step on our journey to a bright, green future.


Alexander, S. (2002). Green Hotels: Opportunities and Resources for Success. Retrieved on 5 September 2009 from

ASEAN (2009). ASEAN Green Hotel Standard: ASEAN Tourism Standards. ASEAN publications, Bangkok.

Pleumarom, A. (1995). Eco-tourism or eco-terrorism? Proceeding of the presentation of the German Association for Political Economy, April 1995.

The Malay Mail (2010). 10 Malaysian Hotels Recognised as ASEAN ‘Green Hotels’. Published on 26 January 2010.

The Star (2010). Top dive spots closed due to coral bleaching. Published on 22 July 2010.

Wild Asia (2007). Responsible Tourism [Online]. Retrieved 6 August 2009 from

EcoMalaysia (2010). Marine Park Eco-tourism in Malaysia. Retrieved on 9 September 2010 from

Finding the Equilibrium between Development and Sustainability: By Dr. Vikneswaran Nair

In the wake of globalization and economic restructuring, many nations and communities are struggling to redefine and rebuild their economies without impacting the equilibrium of sustainability. The topic of environmental sustainability has well and truly hit the headlines following the fraught Copenhagen Summit late last year.

The theme of World Environment Day (WED) 2010 certainly echoes the urgent call to conserve the diversity of life on our planet. Indeed humans are among only a handful of species whose populations are growing, while most animals and plants are becoming rarer and fewer. As outlined by UNEP [1], our present approach to development have caused the clearing of much of the original forest, drained half of the world’s wetlands, depleted three quarters of all fish stocks, and emitted enough heat trapping gases to keep our planet warm for centuries to come.

Asia and the Pacific encompass some of the world’s greatest biological, cultural and economic diversity. It covers 8.6 per cent of the Earth’s total surface area and nearly 30 per cent of its land area [6]. The region’s wealth in biological diversity and associated traditional knowledge is evidenced by the fact that 5 of the 17 members of the group known as the Likeminded Megadiverse Countries are from this region: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

As we celebrate WED 2010, it is interesting to see how a small indigenous community in the interiors of Sarawak, bordering Kalimantan in Bario, have balanced the task of preserving all life on earth and at the same time controlled development. Bario is located in the centre of the Kelabit Highlands in the north east of Sarawak Malaysia, adjacent to the international borders of Kalimantan, Indonesian. The highland stands at 3,280 feet above sea level. Bario is the main settlement in the Kelabit Highlands.

There are regular flights between Bario Airport and Ba'kelalan, Marudi and Miri. There are two flights a day from Miri to Bario that flies via the 15-seater MAS-Wing twin-otter one hour flight. Bario is also reachable via river (2-days), logging road (15 hours) and trekking (a few weeks).

The Kelabits, at approximately 5,000 people, is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Like many other indigenous communities in Sarawak, the Kelabit live in longhouses in the highlands. However, due to economic and social factors, many have migrated to live in urban areas over the last 20 years. It is estimated that roughly only 1,200 Kelabits are still living in the highlands. The Kelabit language is widely spoken, and many have also learned to speak English and Malay. Currently, there are 12 villages (long houses) housing the predominantly religious Christians community and 13 homestays in Bario.

Bario lack constant supply of basic utilities. Besides the limited network coverage, water supply is through gravity-fed system and thus they rely on rainwater and river water for their constant supply. Limited electricity supply is provided through diesel generators and solar-panels.

Bario has potential to become a truly responsible ecotourism destination that emphasizes community based tourism. Nonetheless, the community in Bario is contended with their lifestyle. There is a lack of interest by the locals in developing this destination for tourist as money is not as important as knowing how to survive in this remote location. Although, majority of the Kelabits and the Penans in Bario can be classified as “hardcore poor” in the Malaysian definition, money is relative to them. What is more important is to improve on the basic necessities and infrastructure, i.e. proper roads, constant electricity supply, clean water supply, proper sewage and waste management and telecommunication connection.

In the past Bario has attracted many researchers from University Malaysia Sarawak with the e-Bario project [2] [3] [4]. The idea of bringing the Internet to Bario was conceived as a research project to determine opportunities for social development through the deployment of information and communication technologies within remote communities in Sarawak. The project was funded by the International Development Research Council (IDRC) of the Canadian government and MIMOS Berhad under the Demonstrator Application Grant Scheme (DAGS) [4].

The e-Bario project was designed to bridge the gap between the shy and unexposed community in the village of Bario and their aggressive, well-informed counterparts in Malaysia’s larger cities [3]. The project was to serve as the benchmark for future rural development initiatives in Malaysia and elsewhere in the developing world.

On a similar approach, Taylor’s University College, a leading private institution of higher learning in Subang Jaya, Selangor, is currently undertaking a megaproject of building a hostel for the primary school at Bario and at the same time adopting the school and the community for continuous engagement of their students and staff with the local community. Various community based development is outlined to further alleviate poverty among the indigenous community without upsetting the current socio-cultural equilibrium.

Community based development strengthens the ability of rural communities to manage their resources while ensuring the local community’s participation. Community based development can help the local community in generating income, diversifying the local economy, preserving culture, conserving the environment and providing educational opportunities.

Three main areas to look into for the community based development that is sustainable and responsible at Bario include:

Economic Aspect: Bario has tremendous potential to develop and sustain their homestay to give tourist the true experience. The current management of homestay can be improved further with proper guidance and structure.

Socio-Cultural Aspect: The rich culture of the Kelabits can be preserved by documenting them and making it available to all visitors. The younger generations will be involved in all the social events. Thus, the older generation can pass their know-how to these younger Kelabits who will then be proud to show it to the tourist. Hence, this will avoid the culture from dying.

Environmental Aspect: The current remote and rural setting in Bario is great but the environment is not 100% visitor friendly. Due to the lack of constant electricity, water and telecommunication facilities, the location may not attract many holiday seekers. Only the “hardcore” ecotourist will enjoy the destination. Thus, the community needs to sort out clean water supply, adequate toilet facilities, efficient solid waste disposal, extensive usage of solar panels (and wind mills). Getting the road tarred/cemented for easy transportation (i.e. rental of bicycle, motorbike, jeep, etc,) and walking/trekking, will further make Bario and destination for the “hardcore” and “not so hardcore” ecotourist.

All community based development in Bario can be segmented into two phases similar to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) homestay approach [5]:

Phase 1 – Developing community based development

· Assess community needs and readiness for development.

· Educate and prepare the community for development.

· Identify and establish leadership/local champion.

· Prepare and develop community organization.

Phase 2: Sustaining community based development

· Develop partnerships.

· Adopt an integrated approach.

· Plan and design quality mini projects that will benefit the community.

· Identify market and develop marketing strategy that will get others to assist.

· Implement and monitor performance.

In conclusion, it must be understood that sustainability is not like a project that can be completed at a certain point in time. Rather, it is an ongoing balancing act and at the heart of the issue are assumptions about the requirements of future generations and how we expect these requirements to be satisfied.

The vast scale of human activities for development poses a direct challenge to the resilience of the community’s ecosystem. The serious effects of these activities intense development are already evident today in many parts of the world including Malaysia. Rapid economic development in many local communities has led to massive changes in lifestyle and increases in correlated indirect drivers of biodiversity and cultural loss. As a result, nature has come under great pressure and much valuable biodiversity has been lost or continues to be degraded. The Bario experience has shown that a balanced development can achievable if the basic necessities of acceptable living are met. This world will certainly be far more interesting than listening to scientist arguing about who is causing climate change. Far more effective point of view from the environmental and economic experts will determine the balance of this fragile sustainability equilibrium.


[1] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2010). World Environment Day 2010. Retrieved on 6 June from

[2] ebario (2009). eBario Homepage. Retrieved on 6 June from

[3] International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (2007). Connecting Malaysia’s rural communities to the Information Age: The E-Bario project. Proceeding of the World Summit on the Information Society, Geneva 2003 – Tunisia 2005.

[4] Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)(2009). eBario Project. Retrieved on 7 June 2010 from

[5] Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (2009). Handbook on Community Based Tourism: How to Develop and Sustain CBT. APEC Secretariat, Singapore.
[6] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2010). State of Biodiversity in Asia and the Pacific. UNEP Publications, Kenya.

[NOTE: This article was published in Issue 1/2010 of IMPAK, the Quartely Department of Environment Update on Environment, Development & Sustainability, Malaysia]

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is culinary considered an Art or Science or both?: By Dr. Vikneswaran Nair

To be good Chef which is more important? Should the balance beam below be the same or maybe it should be weighed towards arts or even science? There are many providers around the world that is offering Culinary Arts degree and some Culinary Science degree.

A quick glance through some major websites showed the following:

The word "culinary" is defined as something related to, or connected with, cooking or kitchens.

Culinary art is the art of cooking. A culinarian is a person working in the culinary arts. A culinariao working in restaurants is commonly known as a cook or a chef. Culinary artists are responsible for skillfully preparing meals that are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye. Increasingly they are required to have knowledge of the science of food and an understanding of diet and nutrition. They work primarily in restaurants, fast food chain store franchises, delicatessens, hospitals and other institutions. Kitchen conditions vary depending on the type of business, restaurant, nursing home etc.

Culinary science is the planning and preparation of cuisine. Culinary science shows students how to arrange dishes and present those dishes. Different schools emphasize the culinary delights from different nationalities and themes such as the creation of French or of Italian cuisine.

Then, you have another term called Culinology. It is an approach to food that blends the culinary arts and food technology. Through the blending of these two disciplines, culinology seeks to make food taste better--whether purchased in a supermarket or eaten in a restaurant. Culinology also seeks to make food more consistent and safer. A primary method of culinology is to logically translate sophisticated food concepts, such as those applied in fine dining or in a traditional ethnic cuisine, for items on the menus of chain restaurants or those processed for retail sale. Such product or chain-menu development is only possible through the astute combination of the culinary arts and food science or technology.

I would like to get your personnel opining on what you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The ECOCLUB Interview: The Challenges of the Ecotourism Industry in Malaysia: By Dr. Vikneswaran Nair

Recently I was interviewed by the International ecotourism club (ECOCLUB.COM) based in Greece. Herewith is the interview which I would like to share with all readers and seek your comments on some of the critical issues raised by ECOCLUB.

(The Interview follows:) How did you end up discovering and specialising in Ecotourism as an Academic, and how has your understanding evolved over the recent years?

Vic Nair: It is by accident that I ventured into the world of ecotourism. I have always had the passion for ecology and environment even when I was young. I have always enjoyed roughing out in the nature, doing jungle trekking, camping at the beachfront and other nature based tourism activities. Upon completing my Bachelor Degree in Horticulture, I spend 2 years in the plantations in Batang Berjuntai. In 1996, I was offered by University Putra Malaysia to carry out a research to design an expert system to manage the terrestrial vegetation impact in carrying out the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Upon graduation in 1998, I was offered a job in Taylor’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. Thus, Taylor’s College was indeed my eye opener to the magnificent world of Tourism. Thus, I continued my PhD thereafter in developing another expert system for rating the ecotourism industry of Malaysia. With my strong ecological background, I had little trouble to complete my PhD in 2003. Hence, I was involved in many researches and consultancy work in the field of tourism and have published many articles and papers in many forums nationally and internationally. Subsequently my interest and understanding evolved from nature tourism to sustainable tourism to responsible tourism. You have also extensively studied Ecotourism Certification & Rating. What is your overall evaluation of its usefulness and implementability in Malaysia, compared to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region?

Vic Nair: There are approximately about 500 potential or existing ecotourism sites in Malaysia as reported by WWF in their report for the National Ecotourism Plan in 1996. In addition, there are many agencies managing ecotourism in Malaysia which make the coordination and standardisation of all the code of practices a challenge.

At national level, the main government bodies relevant to ecotourism are the Ministry of Tourism, Tourism Malaysia (Malaysia’s tourism promotion arm), Ministry of Agriculture, including the Department of Fisheries (for Marine Parks), Department of Agriculture (for agro tourism which is related to ecotourism) and Department of Irrigation and Drainage (for river management). Within Peninsular Malaysia, other very important government bodies over seeing ecotourism resources and service provisions are the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (for national parks, wildlife reserves and sanctuaries and protection of wildlife), the Forestry Department with the constituent state forestry departments (for recreational forest), the State Governments (eco-sites within the boundaries of a state), the Economic Planning Unit and State Economic Planning Units, other departments and agencies such as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Veterinary Services Department, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board and universities.

Thus, with some many National Tourism Organisations (NTO) involved in managing ecotourism, a standardised certification and rating become more and more important in Malaysia compared to other Asia Pacific region where the NTO structure is not so complicated.

Therefore, it can be said that the main problems in the current practice of ensuring sustainable development of the ecotourism industry in Malaysia are: lack of effective and proper approaches for efficient sustainable management practice of the ecotourism site, lack of enforcement in ensuring the ecosystem is sustained; insufficient environmental cum ecological expertise that incorporates the fundamental of safety, health and environment; lack of consistent approaches in implementing a mitigation measures and in satisfying the requirement of national environmental regulatory authorities; the large number of small organisations involved in tourism and their related fields make the effort to collect data from them both costly and time-consuming, resulting in unreliable and incomplete ecotourism databases.

Hence, a reliable and consistent rating system and database system is required to ensure the sustainability of these ecotourism sites, which can be used for intelligent decision-making. A systematic rating system is developed to maintain a certain level of standards.

In order to make ecotourism development sustainable with minimum impact on the nature, it is important that all ecotourism sites are evaluated and rated in terms of importance and attractiveness. Nonetheless, with the complex bureaucracy and the organization of the NTO in Malaysia, the implementability of this certification and rating is dictated by the political party in power and the Minister who manages his/her Ministry for a period of 4-5 years before being replaced with another Minister who has his or her own vision during the period of his/her term as a Minister.

Thus, the industry suffers. Since completion of my study in developing an ecotourism rating system for Peninsular Malaysia in 2003, five years later today, there is still no concerted effort done to check and balance the fragile ecotourism industry in Malaysia. A comprehensive National Ecotourism Plan that was prepared by WWF in consultation with the ecotourism guru, Architect Hector Ceballos-Lascurain for the Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia in 1996 was not utilized to the maximum to effectively manage the ecotourism industry in Malaysia. Today, the Ministry of Tourism is inviting potential consultants and academicians to re-work on the National Ecotourism Plan. What will happen after this report is completed is everybody’s guess. What are the main challenges for Tourism and the Ecotourism movement in Malaysia today, and how suitable and 'eco' are related current state and federal government policies?

Vic Nair: The current Government policies, both the State and the Federal, need to further holistically focus on the impact of over-development on ecotourism destinations. 50 years ago Malaysia was a destination of eco-paradise with beautiful and coral rich beaches and one of the world's oldest tropical rain forests. The diversity of its flora and fauna is a result of undisturbed evolution over 130 million years.

Malaysia has plenty of natural attractions to satisfy even the most discerning of adventure seekers. With the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean lapping its shores, there is an enormous variety of flora, fauna and marine life to be enjoyed. Ecotourism has become a major enterprise in Malaysia in the last decade. Several pristine rain forest areas have now, been turned into national parks and recreational parks. Total Protected Areas in the Peninsular Malaysia has dwindled with the major areas still in the Borneo Island of the Eastern Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak). Sadly, now even this part of Malaysia is projected for development under the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) and Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) which was announce by the Prime Minister of Malaysia early this year. It is everybody’s hope that the development in this eco-paradise destinations will be done carefully and not solely for commercial purpose.

In a market driven environment, what the ecotourism industry in Malaysia needs and the public must demand is a ruler for measuring the impact of tourism on natural resources. Ensuring that nature-based tourism and ecotourism establishes and maintains high standards will be a challenge for all parties. The management of sensitive ecosystem in the ecotourism context can one way protect a country’s heritage and make it available for local education and tourism. The investment in such facilities is usually repaid through tourists who come in larger numbers and stay longer because there are more things to see and do and at the same time be contended that the sustainability of the site has been looked into. The environment is the resource base for tourism; without protection, the natural attraction that brought the tourist in the first place will be lost. Observing Malaysia today, it is hard to see any signs that over a generation ago, there was major intercultural / intercommunal friction. Has Tourism played any part in terms of better understanding & integration between Malaysian communities, and what about indigenous people?

Vic Nair: Tourism may have played their part in bridging the understanding of the multiculture, which is the selling point of Malaysia. The “Malaysia Truly Asia”, tagline that was adopted by the country for the last so many years, indeed portray the unique culture and the harmonious living among the three distinct people of Asia, the Malays (Muslims), the Chinese and the Indians. These three populations put together, the Malays (comprising Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei), the Indians (Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan) and Chinese (Malaysia. China and almost all of North and East Asia), will make up almost 75 percent of the world population. Thus, Malaysia is indeed a melting port or sample of what Asia has to offer. Thus, tourism in Malaysia has certainly capitalized on this unique advantage in terms of better understanding and integration. In a multiracial country like Malaysia, certainly there are bound to be some intercultural and inter communal friction but it is within the control and tolerance of the country.

Similarly, tourism has certainly opened the doors for the indigenous people especially in Sabah and Sarawak. Nonetheless, the benefits that tourism brings in alleviating poverty among these indigenous communities are still questionable. Many of them continue to live in their natural environment which is getting scarce day by day with deforestation for development, plantation expansion, etc. The Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) and Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) will further displace these communities if the development is not done with these communities in mind. Among other things, you have working experience of oil palm & rubber estates, which have been blamed for deforestation in many other parts of the world. So, do you see Ecotourism as a realistic alternative to plantations and forestry in Malaysia, or merely as an add-on?

Vic Nair: I do not see Ecotourism as a realistic alternative to plantations and forestry in Malaysia. Malaysia is one of the largest producers of natural rubber and palm oil in the world. Despite having been industry for so many years, Malaysia still face the problem of poor management practice in land clearing. Although, incidence of slash burning is under control in Malaysia in comparison to Indonesia, problem of haze still persist.

Although the total size of rubber plantations in Malaysia has dwindled over the last decade, oil palm, which is the backbone of the plantation industry today in Malaysia, has expanded its cultivation from 54,000 hectares in 1960 to 4.17 million hectares as at May 2007. Hence, this represents nearly a 70-fold increase in size in the last four and a half decades. Palm oil cultivation occupies 66% out of the 6.3 million hectares of total agricultural land.

Deforestation for oil palms and rubber estates is a problem in Eastern Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak). With oil palm and rubber still fetching good price at the market, ecotourism will never be a good alternative to plantations and forestry in Malaysia. Instead, the plantation industry in Malaysia must ensure the practice of sound environmental measures by ensuring zero burning, good agricultural practices and the use of biological agents to reduce pests and effluents.

On the other hand, in Peninsular Malaysia the damage done to ecosystem in irrevocable. One just needs to look at the birds eye view as your plane glide down to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Massive land clearing, erosion and destruction of the flora and fauna, is evident. Nevertheless, there seem to be some commitment off late from Malaysia’s palm oil industry. Approximately US$7 million wildlife conservation fund was recently launched. The revolving fund would for start help fund a survey on Sabah’s orang utan population that is disappearing fast due to deforestation. Indeed the fund is one the many examples of corporate social responsibility and environmental care by the palm oil industry.

Today, palm oil cultivation in Malaysia is strictly regulated and only land designated for agricultural purposes are utilized. In addition, research has also indicated that in a number of oil palm plantations in Sabah, greater biodiversity in plantations attracts animals and birds. Thus, there are some form of add-on that ecotourism can bring to these plantations. You were also once involved with sales and marketing of fertilisers and agrochemicals for golf courses. Are the growing golf & luxury tourism developments in Malaysia compatible with Ecotourism in your view? Are golf developers really sincere about greening their act, or is it a ruse to expand in sensitive ecosystems?

Vic Nair: As a Horticulturist (my first degree), I was introduced to the world of landscaping and golf course design in the early 1990s. Quite often we hear about the Environmentally Friendly Golf Course, Environmentally Sensitive Gold Course Design, etc. There are also many golf courses that claim the following:

“This 36-hole golf course was formed on 750 acres of land of which 147 acres were wetlands that formed a part of the fragile ecosystem… incorporated these areas into the course architecture in order to protect the wetlands and the unique wildlife habitat.”

Golf course development is now emerging as a major environmental issue in Asia. The problem may not seem so acute in Malaysia. Nonetheless, because of the maintenance of large, closely trimmed grassy areas is more difficult and environmentally hazardous in tropical areas which are home to greater numbers of pests, diseases and weeds, the problem of environmental damage is there.

In a small drought prone destination like Langkawi, one of the major tourist destination in Malaysia, there are water demand for about 2 million tourists and 4 golf courses. With a population of about 820,000 people, the fishing villagers and farmers of Langkawi are in the mercy of golf developers who are not sincere in greening their act or even creating employment to the local communities. They are more interested to expand in sensitive ecosystems.

As a result, after losing their farms, many of these villagers end up as cheap labourers on their very own lands. Working on these golf courses represents a drastic change from their once independent and self-reliant way of life. All too often, this kind of change leads to the collapse of whole rural communities. Those who are not employed by golf courses move to big cities, contributing to the urban problems of slums, traffic congestion and pollution.

Thus, golf course should not venture into eco-sensitive sites and do more damage then the short term commercial benefit to a few. In your College, from your students, as well as from your contacts with Tourism Academics around the world as Head of CHRIE in Asia-Pacific, do you observe a falling, steady, or increased interest in Ecotourism and environmental issues? And how satisfied are you with the level of research in Ecotourism?

Vic Nair: Across Asia-Pacific, there is certainly an increase interest in Ecotourism and Environmental issues. With the Global Warming phenomena that seem to be the main agenda in many forums across the world including Malaysia, environmental interest has steadily increased in the region. Nonetheless, there seem to be spin off to ecotourism in the region at present with many countries moving into the concept of “Responsible Tourism”.

According to Wild Asia, a non-government organization based in Kuala Lumpur who have been advocating this concept, there is a new wave of tourists who are saying “no” to mass tourism, irresponsible operators and resorts that are destroying the local environment. These tourists want real quality experience. They want to know that the shower they are taking is not depriving a village of water. That the hotel they are staying at is not robbing the locals of their livelihood. Or that their very presence is not offending the local communities. Travel is about relaxation, rejuvenation, adventure, fulfilment, playfulness and sharing experiences rather than just 'places and things' It certainly is not about being cooped up in a tourist compound! This is what “Responsible Tourism” or “RT” is all about.

RT in essence provides quality travel experience that promotes conservation of natural environment and offer opportunities and benefits for local communities. RT in ideal is tourism operations that are managed in such a way that they preserve the local environment and culture so that it can continue to deliver the benefits for years to come.

Thus, more applied and fundamental research is required to study the implementability of good practices of ecotourism or responsible tourism. Currently, most research in this region seems to stay as a research with no practical use or benefit. Institutions like Taylor’s College and even CHRIE, can play a distinctive role in molding the future graduates that are going to dictate the industry, with qualities that are essential to the survival of mankind in this globalised age. You are attending all sorts of Tourism-related conferences all over the world, ranging from purely academic to business ones. How useful are they really, beyond networking, in advancing theory, policy & practice? And are Academics adequately listened to?

Vic Nair: Attending conferences and seminars all over the world is an important aspect of all academicians. Besides networking, it is really a one-stop point for researchers to exchange notes and argue on their findings which eventually will be picked up by policy makers, entrepreneurs, funding bodies, etc. Thus, academicians have to be conscious to the happenings in the industry in order to develop both the basic and applied research. Armed with this knowledge, academicians are able to educate the youths of the world to take their productive place as leaders in the global community.

Thus, a tenured academician must be able to speak his/her thoughts without being oppressed or judgmental of his/her critical thoughts. Sadly, this is still lacking in many countries around the globe including Malaysia, where academicians are bounded by the political power house that dictates what should be said and not question their constructive criticism. Are Malaysian Tourism graduates easily absorbed into the 'job market' compared to other disciplines or has there been saturation? What are the hot topics within Tourism?

Vic Nair: The Malaysian tourism graduates are easily absorbed into the ‘job market’ especially those trained from reputable hospitality and tourism universities like Taylor’s College, where practical exposure, management and entrepreneurial skills are blended to fit to the industry requirement.

Nonetheless, as more and more highly qualified and skilled hospitality and tourism staff force are pinched by the industry in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, there is a serious turnover across the industry in Malaysia. As a result, many front liners in the industry in Malaysia are being managed by immigrants from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, China, etc.

Thus, there is an imbalance of growth of the academia in relation to what the industry can offer in Malaysia. The Ministry of Tourism in Malaysia is aware of this gap and is current trying to tackle this issue. Finally, which is your favourite ecological / responsible tourism spot or operation in Malaysia, and why?

Vic Nair: Personally, I enjoyed Mulu National Park in Sarawak. Mulu National Park is the largest park in Sarawak, with an area of 544 square kilometres. The Mulu National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in November 2000 for its natural beauty and the world's largest cave system with its amazingly rich bio-diversity.

Out of the 27 caves discovered in Mulu, so far, only four caves are open to the general public, with some others being accessible to groups of experienced adventure cavers. Fortunately, the four "show caves" are a representative sample of the whole cave system, each cave being completely different from the others. The caves – Lang Cave, Clearwater Cave, Deer Cave and Wind Cave – which are easily accessible, are surrounded by natural settings that contain different and beautiful scenic spots that make a visit fulfilling to any tourist.

Mulu has successfully balanced the social inherence (respect host culture, conserve built and living cultural heritage & promote inter-cultural understanding and tolerance), environment optimisation (optimal use of resources, maintain ecological processes & help conserve natural heritage) and also the economical benefits and opportunities (profits, long-term business viability, provide socio-econ benefits to all stakeholders, support stable employment opportunities and social services & contribution to poverty alleviation), which is critical for a successful ecotourism destination. Any other thoughts?

Vic Nair: As ecotourism becomes increasingly popular, a need has emerged for both industry standards and procedures, and for monitoring compliance with such requirements. Such standards and monitoring procedures can distinguish valid ecotourism projects from other enterprises that have appropriated the ecotourism label without commitment to its principles. Such measurements are also necessary to help honest ecotourism projects critique their performance and move closer to the ideal of sustainability.

Today, a need has emerged for both standards and procedures to monitor compliance with these standards. Client evaluation is a simple procedure available to all ecotourism operations that can serve to both enhance tourist education and provide a simple system of monitoring. As an educational tool it can be used to focus the tourists' attention upon ecotourism criteria. As a monitoring system it has an advantage over either surveys or on-site investigation because it provides information by observers supplied over an extended period of time.

The management of sensitive ecosystem in the ecotourism context can one way protect a country’s heritage and make it available for local education and tourism. The investment in such facilities is usually repaid through tourists who come in larger numbers and stay longer because there are more things to see and do and at the same time be contended that the sustainability of the site has been looked into.

Further, the ecotourist needs to understand the value of participating in this evaluation programme. This requires them being told how the findings will be used and how they will benefit, as well as the environment and local culture, from nature tour operators adhering to management standards and guidelines. One way to accomplish this goal is through an incentive program that encourages nature tour operators, guides, and lodging establishments to participate in the evaluation process.

In conclusion, as the ecotourism industry continues to grow, greater pressure will be placed on nature tour operators, lodging establishments, trade associations and governmental bodies to ensure a high quality tourism experience for its customers, to protect the natural and cultural resources that are utilized, and remain economically sustainable. To accomplish this goal, the ecotourism industry in countries, regions and destination areas are going to have to make tough decisions regarding how they hope to ensure the future of the industry. An underlying tension will always exists among the different ecotourism providers on how to best achieve this goal. The tension is between self-regulation by a business, the collective development and enforcement of objectives and guidelines by an ecotourism association, or through regulation by a governmental entity. Thank you very much!