The rise of ecotourism in Asia might be one of the more under-reported major stories of the year. Ecotourism is generally understood as smaller scale tourism that places a premium on environmental conservation. The transfer of wealth to Asia and the many spectacular Asian destinations for the Western budget-conscious traveler translates into an industry with incredible growth potential. The special appeal of ecotourism is that it combines altruism and adventure in one package. It also helps that many of the emerging Asian economies can lay down sustainable practices at the foundation level of their young industry.
Ecotourism is elastic enough so it can be scaled up for the luxury market. For instance, when Prince Albert II of Monaco visited Malaysia, he stayed at the Royal Mulu Resort in Sarawak, Borneo, an ecotourism venture that draws on the management talents of an Australian ex pat, Robert Geneid. Under Geneid, the Mulu was recently added to the Marriott Hotel Group. So, in other words, the major players are perking up and taking notice. Robert Geneid’s success will likely be replicated again in Malaysia, a country with new economic clout, natural beauty, and budding tourism.
Ecotourism might have started off as an alternative to conventional resorts and hotels. Still, mainstream hospitality providers are indirectly responsible for the current attractiveness of ecotourism strictly as a business model. Their services and amenities improved to such a degree that the industry standard made brands indistinguishable from each other. Some hotels can cash in on their cultural cache to separate from the pack. The other route involves ecotourism and experiential travelling. Build your resort in a paradise and off the beaten path, but use sustainable practices to make it as authentic as possible. Then publicize the fact that the new establishment respects its pristine location, minimizes its impact, and helps the local population.
This sounds easy enough when it’s an individual dreamer who’s found his slice of heaven that he wants to share with a small, discerning clientèle. But mass ecotourism is probably the way of the future. As Anthony Wong, director of Malaysia’s Frangipani Hotels & Resorts, admitted, hotel owners need to set their goals and pursue their ecotourism visions because industry resistance still exists.