Challenges of Mass Tourism

Over the past few years, the challenges of mass tourism in Sabah have become ever more pronounced. International tourism has increased steadily each year, jumping almost 8% from 2016 to 2017. Many environmental activists and eco-conscious tour operators have sounded the alarm, stating that the negative impact of eco-unaware tourists on Borneo's fragile eco-systems, coupled with lax environmental protection on the part of underfunded Sabah Parks, has been far-reaching and alarming.

Several responsible diving operators in the Semporna Archipelago have reported or captured video of incidents in which boatloads of tourists have instructed their boat captains and crew to collect fish and sea creatures from the protected marine reserve so that they may be taken to Semporna, cooked and eaten. A number of restaurants in Semporna have been implicated in the above. Some less-responsible diving operators and divers have been named and shamed for allowing their clients to handle marine life, tread on coral in reef booties and other destructive practices that are against the international diving code of conduct.

Fuelled by overseas demand, poaching – particularly pangolin, sun bear bile and other endangered animals – has become a huge threat to Borneo's wildlife. Poaching rates have risen exponentially in the last few years and there has been a marked increase in the sale of swiftlets' nests in the shops around KK in response to demand for bird's nest soup.

In an attempt to combat the growing visitor rates to vulnerable areas, Sabah government and tourism entities are working together to implement sustainable tourism measures, such as promoting travel to less-trafficked regions and further developing popular destinations to better manage visitor influx. There is also a plan to address the shortage of skilled employment in the tourism sector.