Malaysia is a hot-bed for the world's rarest iconic natural attractions and serves as a tourist magnet.
The country has attractive locations with vast potential for development as eco-tourism icons, according to a development planning expert.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia centre for innovative planning and development director Prof Amran Hamzah said Malaysia's natural attractions would lure tourist arrivals to the country.
Tourists will be spellbound by the unique flora and fauna, clean beaches, exotic marine life, oldest rainforest and the world's biggest caves.
Currently, Amran said Sabah and Sarawak were the country's largest contributors to the eco-tourism industry as compared with Peninsular Malaysia, as they had the world's rarest iconic attractions.
For example, he said the Mulu National Park in Sarawak, and Mount Kinabalu and Sipadan Island in Sabah were deemed among the world's top five locations for scuba diving activities.
"Tourists will come to Sabah and Sarawak because they know they can find the orang utan in Sepilok or Kinabatangan where there is a unique range of eco-tourism attractions.
"They cannot find an orang utan in the peninsula," he told Bernama in a recent interview.
Amran said there were many high potential places in the peninsula, including national parks, which were either under-developed or over-developed.
Among the places were Tanjung Piai in Johor, Royal Belum (Perak), Bera and Chini Lakes in Pahang, he noted.
He said eco-tourism activities could be the source of handsome income for the country, as well as local residents.
However, the growing passion to develop eco-tourism attractions could also lead to negative impact on the environment and the people, if the source of wealth was badly-managed.
"The problem is that we have various sources of wealth but sometimes, the development planning was not in line with the sustainable development principles.
"Eco-tourism means, we should add value to the source of wealth and the people. They should get the highest revenue. If it means that the people will be sidelined, then, we will fail," he said.
Amran said planning, management and systematic monitoring should be done to prevent massive destruction of the environment because the country was capable of developing its eco-tourism industry.
"It's dangerous to be hasty...When a sanctuary becomes a zoo, that's dangerous. We have to monitor the consequences. If the impact is negative, we should put a limit to it and create public awareness and educational elements," he said.
He said the homestay programme, on the other hand, could boost the eco-tourism industry as it involved existing villages and their natural environment.
He said homestay programme operators should introduce unique and attractive package to lure more tourists as it brought extra income to the locals and country.
"We have a great homestay programme, we are number one in Asia," added Amran.