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Eco on a Crowded Planet

Sunday, November 25, 2007
TOURISM is its own worst enemy, drawing crowds to wonderful destinations that quickly become overrun in the process. What to do?

The 'Wild Asia' Responsible Tourism Awards, held in mid-November on Phuket by the Kuala Lumpur-based magazine, attempt to push, prod and pressure the industry into adopting methods that are not destructive.

It's not an easy process, despite the worthy role models.

One of the short-listed finalists was Phuket's well-regarded Evason Phuket and Six Senses Spa.

Another finalist in two categories was the relatively new non-profit Andaman Discoveries, based in the tsunami-hit north of neighboring Phang Nga.

Telling it like it is, AD director Kelly May says: "There is a gradual trend towards responsible tourism. But is it too little, too late?

"Ultimately, money and profit margins will dictate decisions, leaving little room for effective conservation."

The carrot is that resorts which find a balance between profits and nature will continue to thrive. The stick is that those that do not are destined eventually to fail.

It may take a few years, perhaps as long as a decade. But mutually assured destruction ??? of the environment and the business ??? is the only logical outcome. "

Andaman Discoveries recognizes the inherent link between culture and the environment," Kelly May says. "Villages depend on the natural resources around them for their daily existence.

Boat tours, forest walks, and mangrove conservation provides economic benefit from biodiversity, and give value to the conservation of natural resources."

'Wild Asia' makes the point that the invention of "ecotourism" saw many outfits misuse the "eco" prefix so that it has become ambiguous or even meaningless.

"Responsible tourism" is the successor to "eco." The Evason won a Responsible Tourism gong at the first annual awards in 2006 and Andaman Discoveries hopes to prove a worthy contender among aspiratants from all over Asia.

What worries Kelly May is that as tourism makes its way north from Phuket and Khao Lak, the economic opportunity also brings the treat of exploitative development to beautiful Phang Nga.

"Unless action is taken soon, there is a danger of local communities being unprepared, both in terms of job skills and culturalresilience," she says.

"This could lead to rapid community and natural degradation.

"All hotels and resorts need to invest in genuine responsible practices, motivated by a real concern for the environment -- ??not as a way to sell more rooms."

..Andaman Discovery missed out on the 'Wild Asia' awards but picked up a global responsible tourism award soon after.

See more at ??www.wildasia.com, www.sixsenses.com and www.andamandiscoveries.com

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