Sustaining the development of Islamic tourism, a new segment that is growing rapidly, can contribute to the growth of the tourism industry not only in Malaysia but also globally, said Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board Director-General, Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.
He said other countries' experiences showed that the sustainable factor was easier to incorporate earlier rather than later.
He noted that leaving sustainability unchecked could boost the industry quickly but the issue of sustenance would arise and pulling back (from the growth) was difficult.
"So it's better to start off with the sustainable factor included at the beginning. Some countries grew so quickly in the tourism industry but they couldn't sustain the development.
"As a result, those countries that started slow, can continue to grow and sustain it," he told a press conference after officiating a short course under the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programe (MTCP), here today.
The course, themed 'Understanding and Embracing Opportunities for Sustainable Tourism', is organised by the Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC), an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The course saw the participation of 24 government officials from 18 countries, 13 of which are the members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) including Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, Oman and Morocco.
Earlier, the Director General in his speech had also said that the economic and other social benefits available in the sector at the moment need to be optimized without jeopardising similar benefits in the future.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Islamic Tourism Centre, Zulkifly Md Said in his welcoming remarks said that there has been a steady increase of Muslim tourist arrivals in Malaysia.
"There were only about 1.37 million Muslim visitors to Malaysia in 2000. The number however grew in 2010 to 4.7 million and in 2013, the estimated number of Muslim visitors to Malaysia was 5.22 million or 20.33 per cent of the total tourist arrivals in Malaysia," he said.
According to him, the majority of these Muslim tourists were from the Middle East countries, Indonesia, Singapore, Pakistan and Turkey, who came for various purposes other than leisure such as attending conferences, medical tourism and shopping.
He also noted that Malaysia has been voted as the top Muslim-friendly holiday destination among OIC member states for four years in a row through an online survey conducted by Singapore-based travel consulting company, Crescentrating.
The ITC was set up in 2009 to facilitate the Ministry of Tourism then, as well as the stakeholders on market intelligence and capacity building in the areas of Muslim market segment.