KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has identified dive tourism as one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism trade. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) estimated that 600,000 new divers are certified yearly, representing an annual growth of six percent.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia identifies dive tourism as one of the high yield components of marine tourism and is aggressively promoting tourism icons such as Sipadan as a world-class scuba diving destination. Despite this, dive tourism is relatively unregulated in Malaysia and there is currently a lack of specific policies to guide the industry towards sustainable growth.
A two-year collaborative study on the impacts of dive tourism on the local community was carried out by the Centre for Islands and Coastal Tourism (CENTICA), the University of Kent, United Kingdom, and the Tourism Planning Research Group (TPRG), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). This study was sponsored by the British Council under the Prime Minister's Initiative programme (PMI 2). As part of this, a two-day workshop (April 26 to 27), entitled Expert Group Workshop on Dive Tourism in Malaysia, which focused on the social and economic impacts of international scuba diving tourism in Malaysia, was conducted by the University of Kent in collaboration with UTM and University of Malaya at the UTM's International Campus, Kuala Lumpur.
Relevant stakeholders from as far as Semporna in Sabah participated in the programme. These stakeholders comprised mainly representatives from the governmental agencies, dive operators, dive associations, academicians, as well as non-governmental organisations.
The objectives of this expert group workshop were to present the main findings of the study on the impacts of dive tourism on the key stakeholders at the study areas of Sipadan/Mabul and Pulau Perhentian, to solicit feedback from the participants on the findings, issues and recommendations that were put forward by the study as well as to provide a foundation for the formulation of a national policy on dive tourism in the near future.
Findings related to the study on dive tourism were presented, besides having guest speakers to present on relevant and important topics of the industry in Malaysia. The papers presented a whole spectrum of physical impacts, socio-economic impacts, dive tourism policies, training gaps, to name a few. The highlight of the meeting was the panel discussion, which assessed the need for a National Dive Tourism Policy.
The expert discussions managed to bring together key players in the Malaysian dive tourism sector. It provided a great opportunity for the participants to highlight all the challenges of this dynamic sector as well as the chance to work towards a national dive tourism strategy for the country.
Having the privilege of being the moderator for one of the four expert groups, which discussed on Managing Biophysical Impacts (the other three focused on Managing Socio Economic Impacts, Training Gaps in Dive Tourism Industry, and Adding Value through Regulating the Dive Tourism Industry), the author highlights some of the major points raised at the meeting. These include the issue of carrying capacity of particular dive sites, management of dive activities, as well as divers' skills and compliance.
Discussion on the issues/threats in relation to biophysical impacts from dive tourism activities and proposed actions
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