Malaysia is one of the locomotives of south-east Asia, a country which has been continuously developing for over a decade now. The intra-ethnic tensions which have rocked the country over the past thirty years are slowly disappearing and the country seems to have regained a certain equilibrium. The tourism industry is experiencing unprecedented development by attracting ever more visitors, but the country seems firmly determined to adopt a policy that promotes sustainable, environmentally-friendly tourism.
Today, Malaysia is the third largest economy of south-east Asia, one of the famous Asian tigers that have enjoyed almost insolent growth during the last decade. Thanks to agriculture, industry and tourism, Malaysia has not ceased to grow in spite of the economic downturn that affected the region in 2010. The country has one of the highest standards of living in south-east Asia and a very low rate of unemployment.
Malaysia is also becoming one of the main tourism destinations of south-east Asia, welcoming ever increasing numbers of travellers who are attracted by the beauty of its islands. But the country is still untouched by mass tourism and the large hotel complexes are restricted to certain areas, especially the coastal islands. The country has chosen to base its policy of tourism on luxury and ecotourism.
Malaysia is a federated democratic republic. The head of state is chosen among the sultans of the country's nine states and holds office for four years. The government is considered corrupt by many inhabitants and there is a growing lack of confidence, with the result that the hitherto discreet opposition is gaining momentum. The politics of the country are partially linked to the precepts of Islam, the principal religion of the country. Decision-making in Malaysia is often complicated by problems of equilibrium between the different communities. The population is divided into three major ethnic groups: the Malay, who are Muslim, the Chinese, who are largely Buddhist and the Indians, who are mainly Hindu. However, intra-ethnic relations are tending to become more pacific, even if some major breaches of human rights are still obvious today. These problems have very little affect on tourists travelling in Malaysia, even though it is advisable to adopt local customs in certain places, such as not wearing bikinis on the beach.
Malaysia possesses one of the richest ecosystems of the region, thanks to its jungle, one of the most ancient in the world, and the proliferation of sea life in the country's waters. The diversity of its flora and fauna is regarded as incredible by specialists, who consider that there is still a large number of animal and plant species that remain to be discovered. UNESCO has recognised this exceptional biodiversity by placing several sites on the world heritage list. The Malay government has encouraged sustainable and environmentally-friendly tourism by adopting a National Plan for ecotourism. However, according to international observers the efforts are still insufficient and many initiatives do not see the light of day due to the pressures of the tourism and industry sectors. Nevertheless, some regions remain exceptionally well-preserved, such as the states of the island of Borneo, where there are numerous ecotourism initiatives.