Malaysia & Singapore

Sustainable Travel in Malaysia & Singapore

Woven from the fabric of many religions, ethnicities, and traditions, Malaysia and Singapore are deeply multi-cultural nations. While its people are predominantly Malay, Indian, and Chinese, Malaysia also has unique indigenous cultures, found among the Orang Asliv peoples that have occupied the Malay Peninsula for 10,000 years, and among the native Dayak peoples of Borneo. From the 16th century, Malaysia was controlled by a succession of foreign powers - Portuguese, Dutch, and British - whose colonial influence is reflected in the vibrant UNESCO World Heritage cities of Melaka and Georgetown. Malaysia is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries and life flourishes throughout its equatorial jungles, elevated emerald tea plantations, seemingly endless tropical islands, and along the towering slopes of Mount Kinabalu. The island of Borneo lies across the South China Sea and boasts perhaps the highest plant diversity on earth - a staggering 15,000 species, including 3,000 types of trees and 5,000 endemic flowering plants. Borneo is also home to the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros and Malaysian sun bear and is one of the few remaining places where orangutans can be seen in the wild. The city-state of Singapore, a free trade port in the 18th century, offers an intriguing mix of cultures, with a unique style all its own. From the chic shops of Orchard Road to the bustling markets of Little India, Arab Street, and Chinatown, Singapore reflects its dynamism with its iconic modern architecture, tropical gardens, and traditional neighborhoods. World-class hotels, fine restaurants, food hawker stalls and a busy thriving nightlife add to its many attractions. Together, these two destinations invite travelers to experience both the traditional and the modern, as they embrace the present and move forward into the future.

What are they doing right?

Malaysia’s National Ecotourism Plan guides the industry’s sustainable development through community empowerment, best practice policies, and the collaboration of stakeholders across platforms. In 2012, the Malaysian government’s community-based Homestay Experience Programme received a Ulysses Award from the World Tourism Organization for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance. The program was projected to generate over $7.2 million for rural populations in 2017 and more than 17,000 trees have been planted locally by homestay guests through an affiliated conservation initiative. The Malaysian Wildlife Law, Aboriginal Peoples Act, and National Parks Act further help protect the country’s remarkable natural and cultural heritage at a national level. Singapore has been committed to environmentally-friendly principles since gaining independence in 1959. The city-state’s progressive vision of becoming a ‘City in a Garden’ has underpinned its sustainable development during its lighting-speed transformation into one of the world’s wealthiest nations. With over 30% green cover, including 2,100 native vascular plants, Singapore has the highest urban tree density in the world, which is most evident in its impressive downtown nature park, Gardens by the Bay, built around futuristic ‘supertree’ vertical gardens that harness solar power for its operations. The government provides green construction subsidies to incentivize communities in joining sustainability efforts and environmental best practices are monitored and promoted through the ‘Green Mark’ benchmarking scheme that evaluates buildings based on impact and performance. Singapore aims to achieve 80% Green Mark certification by 2030.

The Tiger Ranking

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Malaysia has issues with palm oil deforestation, slash-and-burn land clearing, illegal logging, unregulated mining, species extinction and hydroelectric dams that flood hundreds of kilometers of forest at a time. What has been true during the early part of the 21st century is apparently beginning to change. Malaysia has been making strides toward sustainability with their forests. Deforestation in Malaysia continues at an alarming rate but it is slowing down and becoming more responsible, especially in the eastern state of Sabah. The state has vital habitat for endangered species such as the Bornean orangutan, pygmy elephant and many others. The reason for the change is the rise of sustainable forest management. In Malaysia, this often means selective harvesting, leaving timber-producing forests habitable for animals, and extending sustainability through the supply chain to reduce emissions and raise awareness for green practices. Malaysia struggles with environmental issues, but its forestry departments are showing signs of conservation and more of a commitment to sustainable forest management.

Why the Tiger Ranking?