Being the third largest and most crucial income-generating sectors in Sabah, tourism has spread over far and wide throughout this state, which is rich and diverse in culture, scenic locations, history, wildlife, flora, food and entertainment. Sabah is basically a hotpot of excitement and wonders galore for all kinds of travellers. However, most of the hottest destinations are mainly concentrated in places like marine parks, Sandakan, Danum Valley, Tabin and Kinabatangan. Because of its commercialised state, these places can become overcrowded with tourists and are unable to offer high-quality service to tourists, especially since the arrival of mass tourism from China.
This is where community based tourism comes in.
Borneo Eco Tours and our NGO arm Borneo Ecotourism Solutions & Technologies (BEST) Society have identified and collaborated with the local communities in Kiulu to implement community based tourism. A valley nestled in the midst of lush green hills and valleys, Kiulu is definitely a location with tremendous tourism potential. The project called Kiulu Farmstay, which kicked-off in 2015 with the involvement of only three of the local villages; Kampung Mantob, Kampung Dumpiring and Kampung Pinagon Baru, has now spilled over to the other villages around Kiulu.
The product that sprouted from the collaboration with the community of Kiulu is a back-to-basics wonderland consisting of an ecolodge called the Fig Tree situated by the Kiulu River, and cultural immersion activities are bundled in together to create an authentic holiday experience. The beautiful countryside has so much to offer in terms of cultural experience and sceneries. It makes for a perfect getaway for city dwellers who are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life. Some of the activities that visitors can get to experience there are paddy planting and harvesting, cooking with locals and eating local food, river fishing, playing traditional music instruments and games, and many others.
Other than that, there is also the Kiulu Homestay experience in Kiulu that offers visitors a basic and peaceful accommodation. The homestays are run by the charming villagers themselves, allowing you to live with a host family. The people of Kiulu are known for their hospitable and friendly charm that will make you feel right at home.
We have also developed a unique guided tour, Borneo Quad Biking. This activity allows you to experience the stunning Kiulu countryside in an exciting way. Visitors get to ride a quad bike through cosy villages with the most beautiful paddy field views, then drive up and down rolling hills and traversing rivers, soaking in the thrill and wonder that the entire experience has to offer. Your guide will stop along the way to share stories about the life of Kiulu’s people and the fauna there.
We have also worked a system whereby for every purchase of Kiulu Farmstay products, there will be a contribution that will go directly to Mukim Ulu Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (MUKEST) Society, which is a society responsible for overseeing the Community Development Contribution fund that will benefit all the villages of Kiulu under it.
Being a community based tourism project that acts as a catalyst for community development and capacity building, Kiulu Farmstay has provided jobs for the locals there. These jobs include housekeeping, cooking and catering, guiding and others. Besides that, Kiulu has begun a pilot project for Systems of Rice Intensification under BEST Society’s guidance, which is hoped to be a step forward in establishing Kiulu as a sustainability centre.
We believe that the development of tourism within local communities is a solution to providing new destinations or attractions to satisfy the wanderlust of the many and various travellers who come to Sabah. Community based tourism or CBT for short, is a form of tourism that emphasises on the development of local communities and also allowing them to have substantial control and involvement, including in developing and managing the tourism destination or product.
Through community based tourism, locals can expose themselves to the modern global market whilst cultivating a sustainable source of income too. This in turn increases their livelihood as well as build local economies through tourism while they share their way of life and stories with travellers. Not only that, community based tourism also becomes a catalyst for empowering locals, especially among the women and youths. Many communities here in Sabah, especially those in the rural parts are taking the initiative to generate more income through activities such as homestays, production of traditional handicrafts, sharing their cultural festivities, introducing local delicacies, fish spas and many others.
Although tourism often promises improved livelihood and employment, irresponsible and unsustainable tourism practices can exhaust natural resources and exploit local communities. It is important that approaches to CBT projects be a part of a larger community development strategy and carefully planned with community members to ensure that desired outcomes are consistent with the community’s aspiration, culture and heritage. In many ways, participants are not employees, but managers. CBT initiatives decrease poverty through self-empowerment, not only by increasing income but also by providing local communities with the tools and knowledge necessary for long-term critical thinking and decision-making.