Nature resort on Lake Batur in Bali, Indonesia. Image: Shutterstock

Ecotourism became a major talking point during the 23rd Meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers held in conjunction with ASEAN Tourism Forum 2020 (ATF) recently, with ASEAN tourism ministers championing for more sustainable, responsible and inclusive tourism.

During the ASEAN Tourism Ministers press conference held at the Indera Samudra Grand Hall, The Empire Brunei, Brunei’s Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong said that ecotourism plays an important role for the ASEAN member states, including the Plus Three countries China, Japan and Korea.

ASEAN ministers speaking in a press conference during ASEAN Tourism Forum held at The Empire Brunei recently. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

He said that sustainable, responsible and inclusive tourism is aligned with what ecotourism should instill in travelers, as a form of encouragement to practice these concepts not only for the sake of leisure but also to preserve the environment, customs, cultures and traditions of countries they have visited.

This was seconded by Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi who highlighted the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak as Malaysia’s green havens which are popular among ecotourists.

The Malaysian minister added that ecotourism is a sector that the country intends to continuously develop, noting it as a “first priority” not only for its contribution towards the tourism industry, but also the value these ecotourism sites provide for the scientific community.

Unidentified Sea Gypsy tribes inside the canoe on crystal clear seawater. The nomadic tribe living on the island of Bodgaya in Sipadan, Sabah. Image: Shutterstock

For her part, Philippines Secretary of Tourism Bernadette Romulo-Puyat shared that one of their top tourist destinations Boracay Island reopened after being closed for six months last year in an effort to rehabilitate the island’s environment.

“We have been rehabilitating, without closing, our other top tourist sites, and we have launched Save Our Spots, that promotes and asks tourists to be more responsible when they travel,” she said.

She continued that national governments should not be the only ones to bear the responsibility of ensuring sustainable tourism practices, calling for tourism stakeholders to also take on the cause reminding them to be mindful of striking a balance between environmental preservation and economic development.

White beach at Boracay island, Philippines. Image: Shutterstock

In a joint statement during the ministerial meeting, the senior officials took note of the progress of the implementation of three programmes to ensure that ASEAN tourism is sustainable and inclusive.

These programmes include upgrading local communities and public-private sector participation in the tourism value chain, ensuring safety, security while prioritising the protection and management of heritage sites as well as increasing responsiveness to environmental protection and climate change.

They stressed the importance of the advocacy work done by the tourism sector in improving tourism management at the ASEAN World Heritage Sites, Heritage Parks as well as other ecotourism sites.

Tourists relaxing on wooden raft resort floating on Srinakarin dam in the morning at Lake Heaven Resort in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Image: Shutterstock

The tourism ministers revealed that a comprehensive regional action plan is being developed to help implement the Strategy on Participation of Local Communities and Private Sector in Tourism Development.

They then called on the ASEAN member states to actively engage their local stakeholders including the private sector at the community level to contribute to the development of tourism in the region.

Furthermore, the ASEAN tourism ministers were encouraged to note that the ASEAN Sustainable and Inclusive Tourism Development Committee (ASITDC) is working on updating the work plan to enhance community and private sector participation in the tourism sector as to address environmental issues and enhance climate change responsiveness in collaboration with other relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies.

Resort Pu Luong Eco Garden with a view of the mountain at beautiful sunrise at Thanh Hoa province, Vietnam. Image: Shutterstock

In further addressing the initiative on accessible tourism for all, the minister continued to support a gender-sensitive and responsive tourism programme, therefore endorsing the ASEAN Gender and Development Framework and its Work Plan 2020-2030.

The ministers looked forward to the Work Plan and encouraged the ASEAN NTOs to collaborate with other relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Pillar and exchange best practices and knowledge.

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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