Learn from award-winning Sabah eco-lodge on luxury tourism, says Bangkuai

KOTA KINABALU: Community-based tourism operators interested in high-end rural tourism can learn from an award-winning eco-lodge in Sabah’s Danum Valley, says Datuk Joniston Bangkuai.

The Sabah Tourism, Culture, and Environment Assistant Minister recently led a three-day trip to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) Danum Valley, some 80km from Lahad Datu town in the state’s east coast and was impressed with what he saw.

The BRL Danum Valley sits in the heart of the Danum Valley Conservation Area, which is home to a 130-million year old ancient rainforest.

Bangkuai said sustainable practices, unique experiences and first-rate facilities were just some aspects rural community-based tourism operators can take away from the BRL Danum Valley’s approach to luxury tourism.

He added that communities could gain from a shift towards high-end rural tourism in terms of increased economic opportunities, preservation of local culture and traditions, environmental sustainability, improved infrastructure and a greater sense of pride and community spirit.

“High-end tourists are individuals who are seeking luxurious, unique, personalised experiences.

They seek out places like BRL Danum Valley for high-quality amenities, service and special activities that provide a sense of exclusivity and authenticity,”said Bangkuai.

“This is the knowledge and understanding of what makes a high-end tourist product that rural communities need to begin capitalising on a lucrative and growing tourism market to create a more vibrant and prosperous local economy,” he added.

Bangkuai was in the trip for a product update and to experience luxury eco-tourism with the Sabah Tourism Board (STB)’s board of directors and management staff.

Among those in the familiarisation trip were Tourism, Culture, and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Datuk Mohd Yusrie Abdullah and Federation of Rural Tourism Association Sabah (Fertas) president Walter Kandayon, who is also a board member of STB.

Bangkuai, who is also the STB chairman, said that rural community-based tourism operators should not get complacent with the services and quality they already provide.

He said that they should push themselves to develop distinctive tourism products and services that emphasise luxury and exclusivity, such as offering high-end private villas, gourmet dining, and personalised services, among others.

“When these are in place, rural community-based tourism operators can collaborate with high-end tour operators to promote their destination and develop customised itineraries that meet the specific needs of high-end tourists,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kandayon described his visit to the BRL Danum Valley as beneficial for gaining experience and learning how to develop luxury ecotourism products in the countryside.

He added that BRL Danum Valley has proven that rural tourism can provide a great attraction for high-spending tourists from abroad.

“The success of BRL Danum Valley provides a model for other rural and community-based tourism businesses who aspire to expand into the luxury market.

“I am certain that with a high level of seriousness, our rural areas can produce a product like the BRL in stages, using the experience available and the many resources as well as supports provided by the government,” he said.

Fertas, in collaboration with STB, has drawn up an eight-year strategic plan to enhance rural tourism offerings and services with the view to elevating those with potential to high-end tourism products.

The BRL Danum Valley promotes Danum Valley as a pristine tropical rainforest that is carefully developed and strictly regulated without compromising the area’s natural purity, making it an attractive eco-tourism destination for both nature lovers and wealthy tourists.

They have laid out well-thought-out rail routes for guests to enjoy and experience Danum Valley.

In addition, the BRL Danum Valley reinforces excellent service by providing the highest level of lodging and relaxation amenities despite their location deep in the forest.

The STB board members and management staff experienced, among others, guided jungle trekking to a waterfall and ancient burial site, night walk, canopy walk, wildlife safari and tubing during the trip.