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Inanam village jumps on lucrative homestay wagon

19th March, 2018


KOTA KINABALU: Kg Kobuni, a farming village of Dusuns 14km from here, is little known but its obscurity may not be for long. Though located relatively close to urbanity, the village of about 300 farmers and rubber-tappers that still exudes the ‘kampung’ ambiance, hit the news yesterday for being the first village within the city limit to have a homestay programme.

“Desa Cinta Kobuni Homestay is the first and so far the only one in Kota Kinabalu,” said Datuk Edward Yong, the Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister when officiating the business yesterday.

Nestled along the Kionsom River, Kg Kobuni is accessible by a narrow single-carriage asphalt road through a hilly terrain and lush forest. Visitors to the Mari-Mari Cultural Village and Kionsom Waterfall in the same area may have passed by Kg Kobuni without knowing.

Kionsom Hills form the backdrop of the village surrounded by rubber plantations, fruit trees, and wild bamboo bushes. Although it is a tiny enclave to a mixture of Muslim and Christian population, it is blessed with an abundance of nature’s riches and attractions.

The village headman, Osman Okun, said that there are only 50 houses and 72 families in the village. Of the number, 19 houses will offer homestays and they have received certificates for it.

“The ratio might seem little but I think this is a good start. More villagers are keen to participate. I thank the DBKK (City Hall) and other relevant authorities for giving us a chance to run homestay business here,” Osman told reporters. “The forest feeds us as our people are mostly farmers and rubber tappers, and we look forward to sharing our life with guests.”

On offer is the 3-day 2-night Desa Cinta Kobuni Homestay costing RM320 for a Malaysian and RM360 for a foreigner. During the stay, the host will guide guests to make linopot (rice or mashed yam wrapped in leaves) and Dusunic lunch preparation, do jungle trekking, learning about the traditional music and dance, learn local language, make handicraft, enjoy picnic, experience rubber tapping and visit the fruit orchard, if in season.

Osman tells of his home: “Most of the villagers had migrated from Tambunan. In the old days, our great-grandparents moved around in search of better living and this village is one of their stops. Because there were lots of ‘kobu’ (an edible) plants, they named the place Kg Kobuni.”

“The village has undergone some changes, and it now has basic amenities such as piped water and electricity, and our children go to school nearby.

“I hope that in the near future, Desa Cinta Kobuni Homestay will be developed and go on to providing excellent homestay services. I also hope that members of the public will support the homestay programme in Sabah.”

Osman’s village has the distinction of having won the Cleanest Kampung Award under City Hall’s Litter-Free Kampung Competition.

Meanwhile, the Director of Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC), Ag Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar told the New Sabah Times that the homestay programme started growing in Sabah since 2000.

It is a government initiative implemented through MOTAC and the state Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Environment in collaboration with Homestay Association to develop rural tourism.

‘Homestay’ essentially refers to independent houses allowing guests to stay at their houses and experience the daily life (culture, music, dance, traditional games, source of livelihood and food) of the occupants, participate in conservation programme in the village, if there is one, and carry out corporate social responsibility programmes for the community.

“The actual purpose is to increase the revenue of families by getting money from room fees, food, and handicraft sales. Also, it showcases the village culture, develops their standard and be cheerful.”

But not all places can be transformed into a homestay programme hub. Only areas that offer traditional stays along with ‘kampung’ culture, unique nature and Sabahan activities can be licensed to operate as a homestay.

Last year MOTAC certified 13 Sabah districts namely Kinabatangan (four homes), Kota Belud (six), Kudat (one), Sandakan (one), Papar (two), Penampang (one), Kundasang, Ranau (two), Sipitang (one), Tambunan (one), Tuaran (two), Beaufort (two), Kuala Penyu (one) and Kota Marudu (one) as homestay programme.

By 2017, overall there were 314 homestay operators offering 575 units of homestay rooms. Misompuru Homestay, Kudat, records the highest numbers with 34 operators and 68 rooms. Misompuru grossed revenue up to RM1.28 million last year compared to RM1.22 million in 2016.

Misompuru is a community programme where local families open their homes to visitors. It encompasses 10 villages within the Kudat area.

“We consider the Misompuru Homestay a successful venture and we want to make it a role model and use it as a benchmark for other homestays in Sabah.

“This is in line with the government’s aspiration to focus on community-based tourism and homestays are one of the products under the banner of bio-tourism or nature-culture tourism. We are proud of Sabah’s richness in nature-culture and I’m sure this tourism venture will expand.”

Misompuru offers activities in five categories — nature, outdoor and adventure, Rungus indigenous culture, Rungus agricultural activities, education, and training, as well as sports and games. It attracted 10,590 guests last year, 6411 of whom were foreigners from Europe.

Zaki said that homestays are a good economy booster for locals.

Last year, the programme attracted 47,013 tourists with 24,470 of them being foreigners and the remaining were locals. A total of RM4.11 million was earned by overall homestay operators in 2017, compared to RM4.48 million in 2016. Zaki foresees that Sabah’s nature-culture tourism seems to be in full swing.

Though it gives a good result for the state economic, Ag Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar, said still there was a need to develop the homestay industry in Sabah and Malaysia as a whole.

“Although current development is encouraging, it does not encompass all industry players. A few homestays need to be re-evaluated and a few had been identified as inactive and would be shut down if need be.

“Other than that, homestays located in the interior of Sabah, such as Long Pasia is too far from us. It is difficult to do a frequent site visit, to see their accommodation. The authorities also have limited communication with operators as some of the places don’t have mobile coverage.

“This hinders us from sharing latest information’s or promoting them in a bigger market.” He also expressed his concern about the rising number of uncertified homestay programme packages.

“I notice their number is getting bigger, offering apartments and houses around Kota Kinabalu as a ‘homestay.’ This is not fair for the certified one; it’s like ‘menutup periuk nasi mereka.’”

MOTAC is encouraging future operators to move towards a newer ‘kampung stay’ concept, where travelers still experience the homestay package but do not live together with a family.

“This kampung stay concept is the next step for homestay. It just means tourists do not stay with a family. When you opt for a kampung stay, you will still put up in a homestay and participate in all its activities, but you will have a place to yourself.

“We realise some tourists like their privacy, and some homestay operators have more than one house they can offer for accommodation.”

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