Paradise on the rise in Kudat District, Sabah, Malaysia

CTI-SEA’s community-based ecotourism (CBET) project at the tip of Borneo will give tourists a taste of the “authentic Kudat experience” by showcasing nature and local heritage.

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LEGENDARY BEADWORK MASTER. At 80 years old, Nenek is a talented craftswoman. She makes a living by selling  her beadwork and teaches the skill to younger ladies in the villages in Loro Kercil. CTI-Southeast Asia’s community-based ecotourism project in Kudat would help her build a viable market not only for her products but also for the growing handicraft enterprise in the neighboring villages. Photo by Ms. Rosalie Corpuz, Ecotourism Development Assistant, of CTI-Southeast Asia (RETA 7813).

Nenek Pika is an 80-year old beadwork expert from the village of Loro Kecil in Kudat, Sabah. She is one of the oldest residents and is highly respected for her talent in transforming beads to works of art. Her specialty is making brightly colored necklaces and bracelets made of plastic and glass. These traditional accessories bear intricate patterns that reflect their culture as Rungus indigenous group.

Nenek Pika strives to keep their culture alive by teaching the skill to young girls in the village. Her movements are graceful and precise as she assembles each piece. She proudly shows off the finished products which will be sold to tourists as well as to couples who order them as adornments for wedding ceremonies.

Although many locals know of her amazing beadwork, few tourists have had the chance to learn about her and discover the rich culture of Loro Kecil and neighboring villages in Kudat. They live at the tip of Borneo and it takes about three and half hours by land from Kota Kinabalu, the Sabah state capital, to reach it. The Coral Triangle Initiative-Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA), a project funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Global Environment Fund, will soon put Nenek Pika on the map and enable tourists to enjoy the authentic Kudat experience.

Promoting the Authentic Kudat Community Cluster (AKCC) for CBET development

CTI-Southeast Asia, in partnership with the villages of Loro Kecil, Bavang Jamal, Inukiran, and Banggi have formed the Alternative Kudat CBET initiative in 2016 to build an ecotourism loop within Tun Mustapha Park, the largest Marine Protected Area in Malaysia.

The loop will highlight the “Alternative Kudat experience” by showcasing the coastal and marine resources and traditional activities that tourist can enjoy with community members such as beadwork, basketry, weaving, and other handicrafts. The community-based ecotourism  initiative will energize the local economy and educate tourists about the rich heritage of the cluster.

Through CBET, villagers can have a sustainable livelihood through tourism and recreation.They would not need to heavily depend on extracting from nature. Building on traditional activities will give the Kudat cluster competitive advantage versus other tourist spots in Sabah that focus only on promoting scenic areas or adventure type of activities.

Enriching the ecotourism skills of AKCC communities

To prepare the residents of AKCC to deliver excellent customer service, they completed several trainings organized by CTI-SEA.Twenty-two villagers from five sites in Kudat learned the basics of entrepreneurship, guest servicing, and environmental management from July to October 2016.

“The key to the success of AKCC is a differentiated CBET product that encompasses authenticity, diversity, and heart.  There’s also a ‘reef-to-ridge’ experience that embraces product and cultural diversity in an area of outstanding natural beauty,” “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” said Rosalie Corpuz, CTI-SEA’s Ecotourism Specialist.

“However, there are several hurdles to overcome in order for these communities to successfully engage in CBET development particularly in developing a relatively new skill set that we hope the training would address.”

Participants identified areas for improvement and their village’s best assets in a training on environmental management. They also learned how to better protect their natural resources and manage recyclable materials in their area. Resource persons shared tips on how they can improve their village’s walking trails by posting sign boards to ensure safety for guests and residents.

To improve their skills in entrepreneurship, trainees also learned product identification, marketing planning, accounting, and bookkeeping. Each village representative was challenged to identify the best product they can offer to tourists and to master the art of selling these in the best way possible.

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BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS. At the end of the entrepreneurship training, each community had to identify and develop a product for its ecotourism venture. Here, representatives from Banggi Island proposed scaling up its coral planting initiative with the help of CTI-Southeast Asia. Photo by Ms. Sylvia Scholastica, entrepreneurship skills trainer from Department of Fisheries, Sabah.

Bavang Jamal and Loro Kecil plan to bank on longhouses and beach huts. Inukiran intends to boost its “Monungkus” handicraft enterprise. Meanwhile, Banggi Island wants to grow its coral planting initiatives and the Banggi Youth Club dive centre.

The trainees enhanced their skills in problem-solving during difficult situations during the module on guest servicing. They engaged in role-playing sessions where they took on roles related to the tourism industry such as tourists, interpreters, guides, restaurant and lodge managers, waitresses, chefs, and drivers. This helped them learn how to deal with unruly guests, foreigners, and visitors suffering from health issues.

What’s next for AKCC?

In 2017, CTI-SEA will continue to invest in AKCC to help it attract more tourists. The project will help renovate facilities and homestay lodgings in the ecotourism loop. Participants will also be trained on first aid, health and safety practices, and English communication skills to better serve guests. These will make the villagers better managers and hosts for the joint ecotourism venture.

Investing in CBET is a huge step in setting Malaysia’s ecotourism sector for more success. Local champions like Nenek Pika are a good reminder that authentic, indigenous culture is far from dead. Investing in the people and their culture offers a win-win solution in gaining livelihood and preserving cultural heritage and natural resources for generations to follow.

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Written by Christian Rieza with inputs from Dr. Norasma Dacho, Project Management Coordinator, Lourdes Margarita Caballero, Communications and Public Awareness Specialist, and Rosalie Corpuz, Ecotourism Development Assistant, of the Coral Triangle Initiative – Southeast Asia (RETA 7813)

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