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The most general definition of Ecotourism is that which genuinely benefits the local environment (both nature and the people) in which it operates.

Probably the first one to operate in this way in the Singapore region was Riau Island Adventures, run by Evan Jones, who used to run cycling and boating trips in the Riau Islands[1], and who, for a long time, maintained web pages on the Riau islands with a wealth of information that was sensitive to both local concerns and those of visitors. In the 1980s and 1990s, Bintan Bintan [2], one of the main islands in the Riau, and a prime local holiday destination for Singapore residents, featured some very charming locally-owned backpacker places along its East Coast. While some of these have given way to larger developments, some of the new developments along the East coast do satisfy most of the criteria listed on Wikipedia's Ecotourism page (see the section below).

In nearby Malaysia, most tourism was - and is - best described as traditional tourism. There were (and are) some very nice locally owned/operated places in Tioman, but one can argue that while they are mindful of the local communities, they are less so of the environment around them. Tioman's stunning Salang beach and coral reef are a case in point: despite being designated a marine park, jet-ski operators could easily operate without action by the local police, and half the coral reef near the beach was destroyed by construction projects which dropped concrete on the reef. The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation[3] has more details on the adverse impact of Tioman's tourism development. On the other hand, there is some true eco-friendly tourism on the other side of the island, Juara beach, where operators work in very close contact with the local village and take great care to preserve the natural habitat. See for example Riverview.[4]

The Singapore government does a lot to keep the city green, but the only tourism that could possibly be described as eco-tourism is to be found on the charming little offshore island Pulau Ubin, where there is great cycling and most operators hail directly from the island itself and are respectful of its rich natural habitat. But refer to this website for more on eco-activities in Singapore, as well as for the interesting news report which claim that Singapore's garbage island is built-up in a sustainable manner.[5]

The 1990s saw the construction of the Bintan resorts, which was intended to host some 200 hotels and become a regional tourism magnet, attracting worldwide audiences with world-class golf. These ideas never materialized: the golf courses were built but at no stage were there more than 10 hotels, and they ended up catering almost exclusively to Singapore residents. Some would argue that this development qualified as an eco-disaster: the villagers at the Northern tip of Bintan were forced to move against inadequate compensation (The villagers claimed they received only 100 IDR per m2 - which at the time was around 5 euro cents). Regular demonstrations ensued for years, until the monetary injustice was rectified by one of Indonesia's later presidents, Gus Dur, who arranged for an adequate pay-out that stopped further protests. During the construction of the Bintan resorts (and the continual build-up of Singapore itself), sand-mining left large pits in Bintan. These sand-pits filled up with water, and, in conjunction with the malaria carried by the Javanese construction workers employed in large numbers by the resort developers, helped spark a malaria epidemic in Bintan that only in recent years has been contained.

The current state of affairsEdit

During the credit boom years, much of the thinking in the regional tourism industry was geared towards development of the big and grandiose. A number of small enterprises in Singapore offering cycling and other eco-trips in the region tried their luck, but none managed to make a lasting presence. In Malaysia, little has changed, and Tioman is perhaps still the only place where tourism could be labeled eco-tourism on account of its deep connections with the local community. The notable exception in nearby Malaysia is the earlier mentioned

  • River View Resort[6] on the East coast of Tioman, and
  • Riders lodge,[7] a resort just across the border from Singapore, which runs well-conducted horse-riding activities and seems to have taken great care to minimize adverse impact on the environment.

Along Bintan's East coast, away from the big resorts in Bintan, however, is where we can now find a budding centre of eco-tourism. There are (a dwindling number of) locally owned, very basic but very charming, back-packer places that fully satisfy the criteria for eco-tourism, but the last decade has seen the opening of five new resorts which can lay reasonable claims to comply with the criteria as well. Their activities are discussed on the Wikitravel East coast Bintan page [8] so the emphasis below is on the eco-aspects of each of the four newer developments.

  • Agro Beach Resort.[9] A classy yet affordable hotel with a local feel, It is owned by an Indonesian from outside Bintan, but much of its staff hails from Bintan, and the resort has built up good relations with the local communities.
  • LooLa Adventure Resort[10] LooLa was the pioneer of eco-tourism in this area. The owners are two European teachers living in Singapore but the entire resort has been run, since opening in the year 2000, by people from the nearby village. LooLa's clients have been encouraged to participate in community involvement activities, from computer donations to Bintan's schools (in collaboration with the Singapore American School) to further interactions with local schools, orphanages and villages, to tree planting projects with local communities that benefit both the environment and local communities.
  • Ocean Bay . Singaporean-owned but fully locally operated, these are basic kelong style bungalows, built around a huge netted sea area where visitors can fish.[11]
  • Nikoi Island, [12] and Pangkil Island, [13] are two separate upmarket island resorts. They are foreign-owned and foreign-managed, but substantial efforts have been made to develop the resorts in a sustainable way, and to employ local people as much as possible.

Further reading Edit

Citations Edit

  1. Riau Islands
  2. Bintan
  3. Planetary Coral Reef Foundation
  4. Riverview
  5. Innovative_Singapore_Turns_Garbage_Island_Into_EcoTourism
  6. [River View Resort
  7. [1]
  8. the Wikitravel East coast Bintan page
  9. [2]
  10. [3]
  11. [4]
  12. [5]
  13. [6]

Credit: Wikipedia User Marcvanloo

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