Globally, the tourism sector has been recognised as significant driver of economic advancement and job creation. Up till the 2020 global pandemic, the industry accounted for approximately 10% of the global GDP. As travel becomes more accessible, countries have turned to tourism as an imperative source for growth.
Parts of the world that were once hard to reach are now easily accessible. The rise in popularity of social media encourages and inspires people to travel, making the world ‘smaller’ – leading to an increase in tourists, world-over, impacting resources, environment and local communities.
Fortunately, more travellers have been inclined towards sustainable travel experiences, willing to put more effort to travel sustainably. Responsible Travel has now become essential, prompting travellers to consider the impact of their travels on the ecosystem and communities.
Embracing this philosophy, since 2019, the Sarawak Tourism Board (‘STB’) had taken bolder steps towards promoting Responsible Tourism. In line with UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), STB advocates for responsible people, businesses and governments to maximise positive economic, social and environmental impact on tourism. Such steps include introducing homestays in rural areas and those from B40 category to sustainable waste management practices which include recycling and reusing waste materials to create additional products, and skills to earn side income. To date, STB’s waste management workshops have covered a total of 46 registered homestays since it began in 2020, benefiting 11,779 households with a total of 82,688 beneficiaries, is to provide food for local wildlife while creating a buffer zone for coastal areas.
The ultimate aim is to ensure local communities are able to benefit economically through:
- optimal use of environmental resourcesto maintain essential ecological processes and help conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
- being respectful of the socio-cultural authenticity of communities – conserving cultural heritage and traditional values.
- providing socio-economic benefits – stable employment, income-earning opportunities and social services, towards alleviating poverty.
STB has taken steps to enable visitors and hosts to ensure sustainability is addressed and maintained. Recognising that festivals have massive carbon footprint and the fact that waste generated has one of the most prominent environmental impacts, proactive measures were taken towards creating and implementing a sustainable, eco-friendly festival, for the renowned Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching and Borneo Jazz (BJ) in Miri.
In 2011, in conjunction with RWMF and BJ, STB and Sarawak Forest Department planted trees at the ecologically sensitive Kuching Wetlands National Park, a Ramsar Site. The tree-planting programme complements the festival’s conservation of endangered musical instruments, songs, and dances by raising awareness about conservation efforts and the ecological values of Sarawak’s rich and diverse flora and fauna. Since then, the festival has continued the annual tradition of mangrove tree-planting with the aim.
Together with the Region’s tourism players, STB had embarked on activities which include energy conservation and environmental education, encouraging participation in greening initiatives, upcycling and innovating solutions to waste management – making Responsible Tourism the ‘norm’.
RWMF & BJ may be considered as the benchmark for STB’s Responsible Tourism initiatives reflecting our commitment towards the three United Nation (UN) SDG goals – SDG 4 (Education and Lifelong Learning Opportunities); SDG 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production); SDG 17 (Global Partnerships). The initiatives include:
- Cutting Plastic Footprint – putting in place water-refill stations, encouraging reusable water bottles and making single use plastic, bottled water unavailable at RWMF.
- Sustainable Procurement – sourcing alternative, eco-friendly products, including biodegradable tableware, procured locally, to support local businesses, reduce carbon footprint and saving energy.
- Waste Management – proper disposal management of recyclables containers, provided by a locally based waste management company.
- Fashionable Recycling – to make recycling fun and impactful, collaborative efforts with local creative community resulted in eye-catching waste bins designs.
- Food Composting – collaborative efforts with local social enterprises to collect and channel leftover organic waste into compost bins, for worm farms to make bio-protein and for composting.
- Tradition of tree planting – planting of thousands of mangrove trees since 2011 at the ecologically sensitive Kuching Wetlands National Park, a Ramsar Site, to create a buffer zone for the coastal areas.
- Volunteer & Green Ambassadors – local university students and volunteers among social enterprises, termed “The Eco-warriors”, helped spread recycling and food waste composting messages.
- Alleviating Carbon Emissions and upcycling – shuttle busses were made available to ferry festival-goers to alleviate carbon emission and prevent congestions. Promotional banners from previous years were upcycled into tote bags to be used as gifts and souvenirs.
All these undertakings were aimed at allowing visitors and locals to care for, connect and be mindful of the impact of tourism on destinations and communities – unfolding cultural experiences. This is in line with the aspiration of the Premier of Sarawak for the State to be a ‘leader’ in ‘Responsible Tourism’ – Sarawak’s contribution to peace and prosperity for people and the planet.
This commitment shows that Sarawak takes the global threat of climate change, diminishing natural resources and socio-economic inequalities seriously. Decisive measures to ensure sustainability, viability and hospitality of communities and destinations are built into the policies of the State’s tourism.
Far beyond accolades and recognition, what matters the most is that STB’s collective efforts result in positive perception that “Sarawak has been made a better place for people to live and a better destination for people to visit”. This is our benchmark of success to showcase the Sarawak Responsible Tourism Story.
Safeguarding our unique plethora of culture and multi-ethnic communities; our majestic natural ecosystems; our diverse flora and fauna will ensure there will be continuous ‘Discovery of Sarawak’ for many years to come!