The ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) held its annual tourism conference in Laos earlier this month, with one of the focuses being the development of eco-tourism in the region. The conference held its closing ceremony on Thursday the 24th, with a ceremonial “handing over of the flag” to next year’s hosts, Malaysia.

Kouang Si waterfall, Laos, pic: Lars Olsen (Flickr CC)

Laos itself is one of the least developed countries, and therefore home to a comparatively unspoiled natural environment. One advantage Laos has is that it can develop its tourism sector by applying sustainable practices from the start and emerge from its status as “hidden Asia” to become a significant player in nature tourism and sustainable development. Let’s hope it goes that route and follows notes the examples of how to do and how not to do eco-tourism from the experiences of its neighbors.

From atflaos.com (via e Turbo News):

The speeches and panel discussion were fascinating and I think this discussion about eco tourism needs to be taken to the world stage. ASEAN has learnt from the mistakes of earlier movers and is now full of great projects to encourage eco-tourism.

–Nikolaus Lohmann, Managing Director of Earth TV Network GmbH

Big players in the development of sustainable tourism practices voiced their opinions at the ASEAN Tourism Conference (ATC), demanding greener practices by the sectors business owners.

From TTG Asia:

Hotels are the most polluting link in the tourism field. There are a lot of opportunities but it’s very frustrating as many hotel owners are just looking at dollars and cents. General managers are often appointed for two years or so, therefore it’s up to owners to set the vision and goals for their properties.

–Anthony Wong, group managing director of Asian Overland Services Tours & Travel Malaysia and Frangipani Hotels & Resorts.

Long Set beach, Thailand, pic: MsNina (Flickr CC)

In other Asian eco-tourism news, this time of a more particular (to be more exact, ursine) nature, a threatened bear sanctuary in Vietnam has been rescued from closure. In this case, eco-tourism was the villain, as the land on which the bear sanctuary is located was to be used for developing an eco-resort.

The sanctuary is used for the housing and rehabilitation of Malaysian sun bears and Asiatic black bears who have been rescued from illegal bear bile farms, which cruelly extract bile from the gall bladders of bears, a which is then sold for use in in traditional medicine for loads of money. Of course, anyone with a bit of education and sense realizes that the bile isn’t doing a single thing medically, but it is hurting innocent bears.

From The Economist:

Bear bile is highly valued in traditional medicine. The farms, however, where bears are confined in small cages permanently attached to tubes tapping the bile, outrage animal-welfare campaigners. We were told however that since the practice was made illegal, the ‘milking’ of bears in Vietnam often involved a long syringe which was then repeatedly poked into their gall bladders — an excruciatingly painful practice.

Another sun bear conservation center in Indonesian Borneo is also under threat of being turned into a campground.

Let’s not pit conservation against eco-tourism. Once you take away the “eco”, all you’ve got is the “tourism” bit.

Malaysian Sun Bear, pic: Tina Bell Vance (Flickr CC)

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