Monday, September 29, 2008


Five-star attraction
Sabah however needs to conserve its natural environment, says expert


Sabah has good natural environment which is a five-star product but for it to continue attracting tourists, efforts must be made to conserve and look after it. Professor Dr Ross Dowling from Edith Cowan University Australia said this was among the conclusions made at the one-day seminar on ‘Developing Sabah’s tourism products and brand’ held here on Saturday. Jointly organised by Borneo Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (BEST) and Tourism Management programme and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) School of Business and Economics, the theme for the seminar was ‘Creating a blue ocean strategy’. The seminar explored and helped participants develop an enhanced understanding of the future potential of Sabah’s tourism products as well as the place of the State’s tourism brand. Ross, who was met after the seminar, said: “We tried to aim at creating a blue ocean strategy for tourism in Sabah and by that we are talking about not competing in the normal usual market but creating a new marketplace where Sabah exists on its own. “We talked about a new emerging form of tourism, possible different ways of marketing and branding the State of Sabah so that it is seen as being different and it came down to three key points,” he said, adding that one of the points was about Sabah’s natural environment. Dowling, who is also Global Geoparks UNESCO Advisor, pointed out that Sabah has a good natural environment that is a five-star product but it was agreed that the natural environment needs to be conserved and looked after. “You cannot invite high-yield high-paying tourists to Sabah and then have them look at polluted rivers and cleared land. So time needs to be spent on conserving the place and making sure that the five-star product is being looked after,” he said. According to Dowling, the second point was the people in Sabah who are, in his words, excellent but at the moment they are not seen as a major form of tourism product. He was of the opinion that Sabah’s ethnic peoples could be and should be one of the main reasons why people would come to Sabah as this way the visitors can engage with communities, disperse the Ringgit regionally and obtain an experience they can only get in Sabah. “The third thing was that the modern tourists are highly affluent as well as fully educated and they tend to do research on the place and tours before they come. So when they come they are looking for a memorable experience and it is that experience that needs to be provided. “A lot of that would only come by with good training, learning and up-skiing of the tourism industry here. If we can get that right and formulate a good market brand such as getting the local people involved, bring out some new. emerging products like geoparks, medical tourism, health and wellness tourism, all these are possibilities for tourism in Sabah,” he said. Dowling also pointed out that the homestay programme is now very important around the world and there is an increasing growing niche in accommodation such as bed and breakfast or homestay or, in some places, farm stay. “It is what these people, especially the baby boomers, want. I for example as a professor of tourism when I travel the world, would generally stay in homestays or bed and breakfast so I can meet the people and get a feeling of what it is like to be a local living in that particular place,” he said, adding that way the visitors can have a greater experience which is better than just being handed the keys by a receptionist at a hotel. He was of the opinion that Sabah’s homestay sector has very big potential but much needs to be done before it can be carried out. The people who are interested in starting homestays or bed and breakfast must be fully versed in what the tourists want, he stressed “They cannot just say well I have a spare bedroom, let’s go into tourism. There has to be training and they must know what the tourist is seeking,” he said, adding that it is important to find out what it is that the tourists want, put the products in place and then market it. According to him, what the tourist opting for homestay really wants is being able to communicate with the homestay people in advance so that they can make their bookings from overseas so before they leave their country of origin, they have it all organised. Another important thing to remember is that there must be: someone who is conversant with the visitors as the tourists not only want good quality food, good hygiene and sanitation such as western toilets, they also want to be able to communicate with the people so it is necessary for the hosts to be able to talk in the same language. “Homestay people need training on what it’s like to serve western or other Asian tourists as the visitors are not family, they are not even people from another village.., they are outsiders with a high degree of expectation,” he pointed out. Dowling said homestay is a lucrative operation that could disperse money regionally, and the State Government, if it is interested in offering homestay as an alternative form of accommodation, has to go out on an educational programme to talk to people in communities about tourism first. It must also explain to them what it is like to be involved in a homestay programme, what the requirements are, marketing, training and also have an accreditation system or standardisation of products,” he added.

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