Challenging the principles of ecotourism: insights from entrepreneurs on environmental and economic sustainability in Langkawi, Malaysia

Benjamin S. Thompson, Jamie Gillen, Daniel A. Friess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Ecotourism is a normative concept defined and driven by generalized principles concerning local livelihoods and conservation of natural and cultural environments. Supply-side studies considering the applicability of these principles in practice are limited. In particular, an understanding of how entrepreneurialism shapes ecotourism is largely absent from the literature. We investigate the intersection of entrepreneurialism, ecotourism, and governance using a case study of actors at the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park (KKGP) in Langkawi, Malaysia, which has seen a rapid rise in entrepreneurial “ecotourism” activities. However, levels of competition between actors, their perceptions of ecotourism, and the challenges and tensions they face are unknown. To address this, a “hierarchy of entrepreneurship” is presented, grouping actors into three tiers: governing institutions, tour companies, and independent entrepreneurs, from whom qualitative data are elicited. Opinions and contestations between and among tiers are elucidated around themes including how understandings of ecotourism influence entrepreneurial strategies, and how challenges and tensions may inhibit the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of ecotourism at KKGP. The study demonstrates that the normative dogma guiding how ecotourism should be practised must be balanced against the diverse understandings, motivations, and capacities of ecotourism entrepreneurs on the ground and the effectiveness of governance systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-276
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation
  • entrepreneurship
  • governance
  • mangrove
  • sustainable tourism
  • tour operators

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