KOTA KINABALU: Seventeen Tourism and Hospitality students from Edith Cowan University (ECU) Australia embarked on a ten-day journey through the land of Sabah to acquire knowledge and experience on ecotourism from April 17 to 27.
The visit was led by Professor Ross Dowling, the Foundation Professor of Tourism in the School of Business, Faculty of Business and Law of ECU.
Managing director of Borneo Eco Tours (BET) and Sukau Rainforest Lodge (SRL), Albert Teo who is also a Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer of ECU, personally designed and packaged the study tour together with Professor Ross.
The aim of the tour was for the students to experience tourism in general and ecotourism incorporating community projects in particular.
Teo accompanied the whole trip for intimate impartation of knowledge and experience in operating the ecotourism business.
The trip began with an overnight stay in Kota Kinabalu city, where the group had the opportunity to explore the city on an afternoon tour. Excitement was further enhanced on the second day as the group set on the journey to northern Sabah, Kudat for cultural exchange activities and community contribution to a student hostel in Sikuati, Kudat – Asrama Bantaran Joy Centre (ABJC).
The group handed over English books to ABJC Students as an encouragement to learn English.
They also donated 20 bunk beds worth RM6,000 to improve the living conditions of students at ABJC. The bunk beds’ supplier, Chung of Temalang Enterprise, also contributed six mattresses to ABJC.
Afterwards the group visited the Kimihang Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) Processing Centre which is part of a community project through social entrepreneurship by BEST Society. There, the students got to learn about the extraction process involved in producing virgin coconut oil through demonstration by Ronnie Onginjan, the Kimihang VCO entrepreneur.
The group supported the project by purchasing the virgin coconut oil products.
They enjoyed the evening with a barbecue dinner, a Rungus cultural performance, and the overnight stay at a traditional longhouse on Tindakon Dazang Beach.
This is a tourism project developed by a local entrepreneur Samuil at Terongkongan Village, Kudat with technical advice from BEST Society.
In Kudat, the ECU group learnt about the local community, cultural differences and challenges involved in the process of changing mindset in order to alleviate poverty.
The next stop on the ECU group’s journey was Kundasang. A stopover at Nabalu Market was followed by an emotional visit to the Kundasang War Memorial Park as the group learnt about the history of Prisoners of War (POW) Death Marches. That night, the group stayed in the Sabah Tea Garden and visited the Quailey’s Hill Memorial.
The ECU group experienced a change of landscapes from white sandy beaches in Kudat to the majestic Mount Kinabalu in Ranau all the way overland to eastern Sabah, Sandakan.
Finally, they reached the banks of the Kinabatangan River which they crossed in order to finally arrive at the award winning ecolodge, Sukau Rainforest Lodge (SRL) which is situated on the lower Kinabatangan River nearby Sukau Village.
During the four-night stay in SRL, the group participated in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Corridor Rehabilitation Program (KWICORP), tree planting project which is an ongoing project by BEST Society, BET and SRL to regenerate riverine forest corridor along the lower Kinabatangan River.
Aside from the tree planting project, the group donated English books to Sukau Primary School students and painted the community hall in Sukau Village, spending a total of RM2,708 on paints and tools.
In addition to environmental and community projects, Teo conducted a presentation and tour around SRL to provide the students with practical insights on building, managing and operating an ecotourism company and ecolodge with community involvement.
The ECU group had a great wildlife viewing experience on several river cruises; they sighted endangered species including the Orang-Utan, Proboscis Monkeys, Macaques, various species of birds and even Borneo Pygmy Elephants.
The study tour ended with a three-night stay in Sandakan. The group joined president of the Sandakan Municipal Council, Datuk James Wong, as well as local and international dignitaries for a dinner preceding ANZAC Day hosted by the Sabah Tourism Board.
During the following days, the ECU Group attended the ANZAC Day’s Dawn Service at Sandakan War Memorial Park and visited the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) and Rainforest Discovery Centre.
The CEO and founder of BSBCC, Wong Siew Te, gave a talk about Bornean Sun Bears and the aim of BSBCC during their visit. The ECU group then presented a cheque for a one-year adoption of a Bornean Sun Bear at RM1,200 to Wong.
Professor Ross regarded the study tour as a good learning exposure on the ground for the students as they got a taste of local cultures and participated in community projects personally, working together with local communities, especially in Sukau Village.
The study tour was further enhanced by the personal involvement of Teo.
The 17 ECU students summarized the study tour as an eye-opener and an once-in-a- lifetime experience. They were impressed by Sabah’s nature and inspired by examples of success such as Ronnie from the Kimihang VCO Processing Centre.
Many of them vowed to definitely visit Sabah again and decided to attend the 8th Asia Pacific Eco-Tourism Conference 2014 organised by Teo on behalf of MATTA.