Despite the decline in travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s never been a more opportune time to build up responsible tourism practices and ethics among Sarawak’s tourism stakeholders.
Organised by Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) in partnership with Sarawak Centre of Performance Excellence (SCOPE), the Responsible Tourism webinar held at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching last week saw tourism partners from the public and private sectors attending the hybrid event in strict accordance with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Officiated by the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Sarawak YB Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, the webinar featured two international keynote speakers: Susan Santos de Cardenas (President & CEO, Society for Sustainable Tourism) and Sara Salsini (General Manager, EXO Travel Malaysia).
“Responsible tourism will help ensure Sarawak’s biodiversity remains protected. Sarawak is well known for its many national parks and its eco-tourism initiatives. The state is home to majestic natural ecosystems, as well as a diverse selection of flora and fauna. Responsible tourism can help safeguard these natural resources and ensure their protection and survival for many generations to come,” said Abdul Karim in his opening speech.
Responsible tourism focuses on 3Es: Environment, Empowerment & Economic Impact, which requires that operators, hoteliers, governments, local people and tourists take responsibility and take action to make tourism more sustainable.
The Responsible Tourism webinar was part of STB’s efforts to ensure that Sarawak’s tourism industry remains relevant, viable and sustainable. The webinar aimed to create awareness among participants on best practices in sustainable tourism in line with the aspirations of the Sarawak Economic Action Council (SEAC) to position Sarawak as a leading destination for eco-tourism and business events in the ASEAN region by 2030.
STB, as early as 2011, has taken various steps to create a sustainable tourism industry. These greening efforts were ramped up in 2019 with their Responsible Tourism Programme, which highlights three UN Sustainable Development Goals – Quality Education, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Partnerships for the Goals.
Greening initiatives were most notably deployed during RWMF2019. In its efforts to create a Sustainable Event, practices like Water Refill Stations, Sustainable Procurement and Waste Management Strategy, among others, were integrated into many aspects of the festival, thereby enriching the experience for locals and visitors alike.
In 2019 and 2020, STB has reached out to local homestays across Sarawak through capacity-building workshops where a total of 3,177 participants from 23 homestays learned sustainable waste management and soap-making skills.
“With a majority of the participants of these workshops belonging to the B40 women category between the ages of 16 to 70, these expanded skill sets has also given them an opportunity to improve their livelihood. On top of running their homestays, women from the community can produce their own soaps and sell them as an additional side income. The soap-making workshops also, most importantly, provide villagers and rural homeowners with means to create their own hygiene products – a vital addition to combat the pandemic in our daily lives,” said Abdul Karim.
Participants took the Responsible Tourism pledge, which called for tourism stakeholders to protect, preserve and value Sarawak’s Culture, Adventure, Nature, Food and Festivals.
“The pledge is a sign of STB’s commitment and conviction that building a mindful mindset among hosts and visitors alike will not only contribute to the wellbeing of our local communities and environment but also create meaningful exchanges for our travelers,” said STB Chief Executive Officer Sharzede Datu Hj Salleh Askor.
In addition, STB and SCOPE entered into a Memorandum of Understanding which will see both organisations working together on workshops and research on the latest trends of Responsible Tourism, focusing mainly on Sustainable Development Goals such as quality education (SDG 4), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12) and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).
de Cardenas, who spoke on ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Responsible Tourism’, is a pioneer advocate specialising in sustainable tourism development and stewardship initiatives with community social responsibility at grassroots application. She has been a staunch innovator, resource person in learning and capacity building workshops for sustainable tourism to include Ecotourism, Community-based and Agri-tourism promotion.
Meanwhile, Salsini spoke on ‘Responsible Tourism A Way Forward’. She helped to lead EXO Travel Malaysia by providing the deep destination knowledge of a local, a passion for Malaysian travel and the expertise of a seasoned travel industry veteran.