Community involvement in ecotourism
Ecotourism is an amalgam of interests arising out of environmental, economic and social concerns. Over the last twenty years, it has assumed a global presence and has been acknowledged as a potential tool to improve sustainability by modifying human social behaviour in regard to environmental conservation. In other words, ecotourism incorporates a strong commitment to nature and a sense of social responsibility. There are examples of successful ecotourism ventures, which are making a real and significant contribution to conservation of the natural resources as well as the development of impoverished communities. Active involvement of communities in the planning process and in operations management is vital in order to achieve the development and conservation goals of ecotourism. However, these activities are extremely rare because they have generally been peripheral to tourism planning and management especially in developing countries. In light of the research needs in the above context, this research, which is exploratory in nature, attempts to examine the contribution of ecotourism to local community's livelihoods in rural areas in Malaysia by exploring local opportunities and limitations in the industry as well as evaluating the current practice and the potential for community participation in the planning process. In general, the study found that the level of local involvement in ecotourism in Malaysia is low because there are operational, structural and cultural limitations to community participation in tourism development process. The study also found that active local participation in planning is compounded by the technocratic planning system and highly centralised government structure. Therefore, this study suggests that the realisation of community ecotourism in Malaysia must overcome these two major impediments before it can successfully take place. As ecotourism research is relatively new and limited in Malaysia, the outcome of this study is believed to have expanded the existing body of knowledge on community participation in ecotourism and planning and have provided valuable insights into the practicality of this approach in Malaysia.