The socio-economic impact of international tourism in Malaysia

Dr Mark Hampton is an expert in the development impacts of tourism in South-East Asia. His current focus is on Penang, a tourist destination since the 1960s, where he’s working with stakeholders to assess the impact of tourism.

Dr Mark Hampton, Reader in Tourism Management in KBS, has been working in Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia for several years with funding from the British Academy, British Council, Swiss overseas aid and the Malaysian government. One of Dr Hampton’s projects is located in the well-known tourist island of Penang – the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ – found on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia.

His project in Penang involves mapping the socio-economic impacts of international tourism, how that has changed over time, and the effects on local communities and businesses. The project involves a variety of data collection methods using focus groups, in-depth interviews and local archives.

Penang has hosted international tourism since the 1960s and the historic city of George Town with its well-preserved heritage streetscape of Chinese shop houses and local street food culture is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Penang attracts millions of tourists and has seen innovative new businesses emerging such as boutique hotels operating in new niche markets as well as longer-established international luxury hotels at its beach resorts. The cruise ship industry is also growing fast in the region with regular large cruise ship visits to George Town.

Tourism is now a major economic sector in Penang contributing to regional GDP, creating significant employment (both direct and indirect), sizeable business opportunities for SMEs and larger companies, and is a major source of income resulting from tourist expenditure.

Dr Hampton is working closely with different stakeholders including tourism businesses, civic groups, NGOs, Malaysian universities and local government to research the changing impacts of international tourism over time in this major destination. The project’s detailed research analysis will inform evidence-based policy in this rapidly developing economy and will result in a more nuanced understanding of tourism as driver of more sustainable economic development.

Photo by Fidelia Zheng on Unsplash

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