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University of Kent leads dive tourism research project

A University of Kent academic will be literally plunging into a prestigious new research project this summer.

Dr Mark Hampton, the University’s Director of CENTICA – the Centre for Tourism in Islands in Coastal Areas, part of Kent Business School – will lead a team of experts exploring the economic and social impacts of international dive tourism in Malaysia.

The project, which is one of the first of its kind, is the latest collaboration between the University of Kent and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

CENTICA was awarded more than £33,000 from the British Council in order to lead the two-year project. The funding is part of the Prime Minster’s Initiative Programme, which aims to strengthen Britain’s economic and educational ties with certain key countries.

Dr Hampton, who also runs the University’s Tourism Management degree programme, based at the Medway campus, said he was delighted to be starting what promised to be ground-breaking work. ‘Scuba diving is one of the world’s fastest growing sports and Malaysia is a world-class destination for divers,’ he said. ‘But research to date has primarily been by marine scientists into the physical impacts of diving, mainly on coral reefs.

‘Little is known about the economic and business consequences for a rapidly developing nation such as Malaysia. We want to know what impact international dive tourism is having on the local economy and local communities. We’ll be trying to find the winners and losers – establishing who is reaping the benefits and seeing if the money is being retained in the local economy.

‘We aim to generate a whole new body of research that, alongside environmental studies, will inform debate over the role of dive tourism in developing countries. Ultimately, we hope to see whether this type of tourism is sustainable for the local destinations,’ Dr Hampton said.

The research team will be commencing fieldwork this summer in three main sites – Sipadan Island in Sabah, East Malaysia, Redang Island in West Malaysia and the Perhentian Islands. The findings of the project will be presented at a conference in Malaysia for the international tourism industry next year.

Dr Hampton has worked alongside Professor Amran Hamzah of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia on two previous research projects. The first, in 2006, was a £50,000 study funded by the Malaysian government to assess the impact of backpacker tourism in the Asia Pacific region. Last year the pair teamed up for a pilot study of cross-border tourism between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Last year Dr Hampton was honoured by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia by being appointed Visiting Professor of Tourism.

Nick Ellwood | alfa
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