KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) – The recently concluded annual New York Times Travel Show had a new pin-up–Malaysia’s orangutans.
Visitors to one of the largest trade and consume travel show on the US east coast have shown a “marked interest” in eco and adventure tourism, according to Mohamad Taib from Tourism Malaysia’s New York office.
“Interest in the orangutans has shown a marked interest,” said Mohamad, who is pitching Malaysia’s riches of flora and fuana in Malaysian Borneo along with Langkawi island in peninsular Malaysia. “We are now promoting wildlife tourism in the US.”
On July 28, 2006, the US government announced it is donating US$100,000 towards the “Heart of Borneo” conservation project, an imitative to protect and preserve the biodiversity of 220,000 sq km of equatorial rainforest which straddles Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei territories on Borneo island.
The region is the source of 14 of the island’s 20 major rivers and is considered one of the most important centers of biological diversity in the world.
According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report, besides being home to the orangutans, the largest tree-climbing mammal and the only great ape found in Asia, it is also home to gibbons, macaques, Sumatran rhinoceros, and the pygmy elephants.
The area hosts about 90 different species of bats, as well as a variety of squirrels, cats, civets and mongooses. “Only half of the original forest cover remains, down from 75 percent in the mid-1980s,” said WWF. “Rapid deforestation has significantly reduced Borneo’s forest in recent decades.”
The ASEAN stand at the show, with participation from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, has received similar interest during the three-day show, which was hosted by American Express.
Tourist arrivals to Malaysia from the US increased by 17.5 percent in 2007, compared to the previous year following a slump. Negative publicity following the September 11 terrorist attacks lumped Malaysia into the “unsafe” destination category.
Tourism has since then been instrumental in helping to break down prejudices and misconceptions, putting Malaysia back as a country with few or no bureaucratic hassles, and a safe destination.
Syed Nasir, whose New York-based tour agency offers package tours to Malaysia and Singapore, told newsmen Malaysia is now viewed as a liberal country compared to other Islamic countries. “There has been a gradual change in perception.”
Despite Singapore offering better connectivity to the region, Nasir says Malaysia still offers the visitor better “value for money” than Singapore and Thailand. “Southeast Asia still offers value for money to the US visitor. The open skies policy for ASEAN effective in 2009 will make the region an even more attractive destination.”