PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Foreign tourists visiting marine parks in the country will have to pay higher entrance fees from January while charges will also be imposed on dive operators and film crews.
Under the new Marine Park Conservation Fee structure, foreign tourists will be charged RM30 (S$9.58) for adults and RM15 for both senior citizens and children.
The fees for locals remain at RM5 for adults and RM2 for children.
For activities like research, camping and commercial or documentary filming, as well as visits by dive operators and owners of private yachts, the fees will range from RM10 to RM500.
According to a Marine Park Department official, exceptions were made for those living on islands near the parks.
The fees, which go to a trust fund, are used to manage and maintain the parks.
Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde said it supported the new fees if these were used for conserving, upgrading and maintaining the facilities at these parks, as well as for enhancing public awareness on the need to care for the reefs.
"For foreign tourists, they have already spent thousands on a plane ticket to Malaysia. What's a bit more for entrance to the marine parks?" he asked, pointing out it would only cost foreigners about US$6.60 (S$9.42).
Reef Check, said Mr Hyde, was also in support of having dive operators pay RM150 monthly.
"Currently, they don't pay anything but are using the assets for free for their business. We feel that they should pay fees," he said, adding that dive operators were generally in support of this.
But Malaysian Scuba Diving Association president Amin Mustapah said the department should put new rates on hold because these would burden the operators who may then pass on the extra cost to visitors.
"Furthermore, it is Visit Terengganu Year next year. Dive tourism is booming in Malaysia and these tourists may opt for Thailand, Indonesia or the Philippines if they feel the pinch," he said.
He said the parks should find ways to bring in more visitors instead of imposing an unnecessary burden on dive operators.
"This is like putting sand in their rice bowl. As it is, we are already struggling to attract visitors. Now we are burdened with extra charges," Mr Amin said.