Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tourism in Malaysia

CNN has an interesting article about Malaysia aggressively pursuing tourists. I am of 2 minds on Malaysia. I have written about the negatives of traveling here before, particularly the massive destruction of their forests for palm oil plantations, making riding through the country incredibly dull and depressing. There is much to see in Malaysia--cities such as Malacca and Penang played key roles in world trade as early as the 13th century. Malacca especially has some very cool historical artifacts and museums. The country is quite diverse, with Malays, Chinese, and Indians all living together, at least in the cities. This also means an incredibly variety of amazing food, something that is certainly important to me. And where the jungle hasn't been destroyed, it is amazingly beautiful.

But Malaysia wants to have it both ways. They want to bring in the tourist dollars going to Thailand without actually protecting their environment. They figure that if they can keep tiny areas protected, they can make boatloads of money destroying the rest of their forests. To some extent, maybe they can. But how much money has Thailand made by banning logging? Tons, because the forests are in decent shape. Yes, there is some illegal logging and yes, much of the logging that would have been done in Thailand is now in Burma and Malaysia. But from the long-term perspective of national interest, Thailand made an incredibly smart move. Malaysia isn't looking that far ahead. It's all about the instant cash there and you can't build a tourism industry, especially one with ecotourism at its center by only thinking about the money. Money is central to all tourism projects and that's fine. But it's not enough for long-term success. Malaysia has the potential to be a world-class tourist destination. Malaysia can make a ton of money of tourism for a long time to come. But attracting rich Western tourists will run into a roadblock when they realize how screwed up so much of the country is.