Community Based Tourism, alternative livelihoods for rural
and remote communities

Engaging in CBT is a great alternative to give back to a community

If you find yourself wanting to do more as a conscious traveler, community based tourism (CBT) is a great approach to offer your assistance during your travels. CBT has the potential to provide excellent alternatives for a community to progress and sustain themselves independently. CBT initiatives provide an alternative livelihood for communities, supporting communities through the revenue generated from tourism. In most cases rural communities are limited by what they can extract from their local environment with the natural environment often being converted into agricultural land meaning a loss in biodiversity and potentially ecosystem functions. By working with communities in this manner community members are able to view their natural resources as a commodity as they see the value in keeping the local environment in tact. By participating in CBT initiatives, you are supporting sustainable means for these communities to stand on their own and meet the needs of the local people by creating job opportunities, relieving poverty, and further improving facilities such as homestays and nature based activities.

In Malaysian Borneo it is often the case that, due to lack of work opportunities, the younger generation will move to bigger towns or cities for employment. CBT provides an opportunity for this demographic to make a living and retains the younger generation within the community. Rural communities have a high dependency on agriculture and extractive practices which involves fishing and sometimes illegal activities such as poaching and wildlife trade. This impact is compounded by the fact that there is often a lack of education and knowledge in creating a tourism products as an alternative livelihood contributing to this dependency.

The team members helping out for the Sayap Homestay Program and having fun while they’re at it

CBT initiatives in Borneo have proven to be successful as more and more visitors become aware of these products choosing to support them over many traditional tourist hotspots. There are several projects Sticky Rice Travel have worked with, namely the KOPEL Eco Camp, Orou Sapulot and the Sayap Homestay Program . We have listed some of the projects in Borneo to give you an idea on what’s on offer.

Community based tourism projects in Borneo

Eco & Supu Jungle Camps – Batu Putih (KOPEL)
Unique jungle camps nestled in the lush forest of the Kinabatangan River

The MESCOT Initiative is a collective effort of the Batu Puteh community comprising of the Orang Sungai (River People) indigenous group to preserve the natural wonders of the Lower Kinabatangan as well as generating revenue to sustain the livelihood of the local people through ecotourism activities offered within the region. Before the initiation of MESCOT, the local people of the Orang Sungai tribe sourced their necessities through extractive practices within their local environment.

The establishment of the MESCOT Initiative gave the community a sustainable premise to create a steady source of income and protect the surviving forest by turning it into a tourism product. Not only that, there has been a significant reduction in hunting and timber extraction providing direct benefits to the local wildlife. The community then formed The Batu Puteh Community Ecotourism Co-operative (KOPEL) to oversee the ongoing conservation and ecotourism activities.

Pictured is the restoration site in Kuala Kaboi taken in 2008 Photo credit: MESCOT

Part of the MESCOT Initiative is the restoration of the forest and habitat program where the community has been actively reforesting logged areas since 1999 restoring vast sections along the river. As the program has grown over the years, a variety of initiatives have emerged namely tree planting, establishment of a tree nursery, and vine removal. The trees that are planted in the area are species that grow fast as well as providing wild fruits as a food source for orangutans and hornbills among other species of conservation significance. Before the trees are planted, seeds are cultivated in the MESCOT nursery and nourished for 4-6 months. The vines and weeds are removed from the planting sites and once it’s clear, the young trees are carried to the site to be planted. When visiting the area guest have the opportunity to plant trees themselves as a way of making their contribution to the forest restoration activities.

The infamous Salvinia molesta covering the surface of Tungog Lake Photo credit: MESCOT

Another restoration program that is being done under the initiative is controlling the invasive water weed, Salvinia molesta, that has infested Tungog Lake. It was thanks to the financial support of the Alexander Abraham Foundation (NY) and 14 months of undivided hard work that the MESCOT team were able to clear the lake from the Salvinia infestation. The surface of the lake is now liberated from Salvinia and the team are able to keep the lake clean on a monthly basis through the funding provided by their tourism product and volunteers. In recent times they are also using biological control to further keep this invasive species under control.

The view of Tungog Lake at sunrise after years of dedication addressing the Salvinia problem, the lake is no longer choked with the invasive water weed.

If you’re keen to do your part to support their cause, you may do so by volunteering in their programs or staying at Eco and Supu Jungle Camps during your Borneo adventure. These destinations offer a rewarding experience especially for avid birders and keen wildlife watchers. The forest surrounding the camps is brimming with incredible wildlife and if you wish to enhance your wildlife viewing, there are observation platforms around the camp. River cruises also provide the perfect chance to spot animals along the Kinabatangan. Early risers may go for a morning boat ride to enjoy the peace and still atmosphere or get the best of both worlds by taking an evening boat ride to enjoy observing wildlife within their natural habitat. You may also trek around Tungog Lake or other trails in the area if you’re itching for outdoor adventure. There are few locations along the Kinabatangan River that provide the opportunity to walk through the forest and swamps of the floodplain.

Orou Sapulot – Preserving Murut Identity & Culture

The loud, drumming beat of the “Gong” filled the entire hall

To preserve the culture of the Murut tribe, Datuk Richard Saking Gunting who is a Murut descendant himself, founded a Community Based Eco Tourism Project with the purpose of protecting the Murut heritage and the ecosystem collectively in Orou Sapulot. The mechanism of the project focuses on responsibility and sustainability to bring forward issues such as illegal logging and to reduce the migration of younger generations to urban area in search of work opportunities. Among the objectives instilled in the program, the major focus is to supply the local people with opportunities to create revenue independently through the tourism activities.

Orou Sapulot is the kind of adventure tourism destination that will get your adrenaline pumping as it is situated in the deeper parts of interior Sabah. Not only is the destination brimmed with an abundance of natural wonders, you are also offered the opportunity to indulge in the rich and wonderful Murut culture.

Exploring Orou Sapulot is a guaranteed thrilling experience

When you stay in Orou Sapulot, you’re in for an amazing experience discovering stunning geological formations at Pungiton Caves and trekking adventures through the pristine forest to reach the base of a limestone marvel called Batu Punggul. Climbing the pinnacle is sure to get the heart pumping but the rewarding views from the top are sure to impress. You may also indulge in a learning experience of the customs and traditions of the Murut community through cultural performances. You won’t just be a mere audience of the Murut traditional dance, you will also participate and once you’ve learned the moves and grooves, you will be dancing along with them!

A beautiful Murut lady donning traditional attire adorned with colourful beads

If you find yourself in Sapulot, you will see how important it is for the community to preserve the Murut culture. Your stay provides a significant contribution and it puts a great value on the natural resources of Orou Sapulot. The positive impact that comes from your involvement as a traveler engaging with their tourism product will further help in achieving the objectives of the project. It is said that in the next 20 years, there is a possibility for the Murut language to become extinct; the CBT project is the anchor that holds the customs and the culture of the Murut tribe together to prevent it from fading from existence.

Sayap Homestay Program

One of the CBT projects Sticky Rice Travel has worked to establish more recently is the Sayap Homestay Program. This Dusun community reside at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. Their lifestyle is unique, peaceful and quite inviting especially for those curious to experience Dusun culture. You will also get to have an authentic farm-to-plate experience collecting fresh produce, learning to cook in traditional style and enjoying the fruits of your labour. The hospitality shown from the local people from the moment you arrive until the end of your stay is an exclusive intimate touch to the overall experience.

A recipe for an authentic experience is to feast on meals made with ingredients freshly produced from the farm and immersing in the culture of the Dusun community

The homestay program is an alternative source of income for families to provide for their family through their involvement in the program. The cost you pay when you stay at the homestays has a built in fee that contributes towards a community fund. This fund will stream towards the development of the project so the community are able to reap the benefits as a whole. An important structure for the Dusun community is the ‘rumah adat’ – a cultural centre for the entire community to gather in one place and celebrate their customs through activities such as dancing and playing music as well as conserving their cultural identity.

The whole team of Sticky Rice Travel clearing the site of the ‘Rumah Adat’ project

The project began to develop in 2016 when families expressed their keen interest in developing a homestay program. Those families interested in opening their homes as a part of the program needed to fulfill the required standards for comfort and safety. The idea started to come to life in 2017 with work beginning to take place and further discussions between the members of the community regarding the sites to avoid undesired conflicts. The first international school groups stayed in the homestays to provide their assistance for the project and in the middle of 2017, Sticky Rice Travel organized a company trip to Sayap as a trial test for the program and from there the construction of the ‘rumah adat’ commenced. In 2018, the second international school groups came to the village and helped out with finishing the kitchen and the bathroom of the ‘rumah adat.’

It was an amazing experience to be part of this project and working with a wonderful community

With every CBT project Sticky Rice Travel have worked on, our objective is to help the community until they are able to stand on their own and also assist in fostering their entrepreneurial mindset so they are able to develop business independently by encouraging them to network with other travel agents and partners to further expose their tourism product and gain momentum for it; instead of being depending on a single company for business.

In the early stages, we provide them funds for project materials, and piloting groups of students from abroad to work together on the project which offers them an experience of interacting with other youths in the Dusun community, a true cultural immersion. Through this program, the local people have released wildlife instead of keeping it which in turn, lead to us seeing less animals in captivity as hunting has long been a part of the community’s way of life. We also managed to identify the village hunters’ as potential candidates as wildlife guides utilising their skills in searching for wildlife in a beneficial way. Probably one of the most rewarding observations is the construction of hiking trails in Sayap Village that was initiated independently by the local community. The younger members of the community lead guided hikes through the trails demonstrating  huge initiative and an example of the community truly taking ownership of their local tourism potential.

Making a positive impact on the communities of Malaysian Borneo

Don’t just be a tourist, be a conscious traveller

Engaging in CBT initiatives provides hope not only for these communities, but for the future generation as well

We might not be aware of it but our potential to leave an impact on the destinations we set our feet upon is big, be it positive or negative or even both. Mass tourism is often associated with a negative footprint and practicing unsustainable tourism will eventually leave an undesirable effect on the people, places, and environment in the long run. When you engage in CBT and the conservation efforts that comes with it, you are truly making positive contributions for the communities providing a means to protect their culture and the surrounding natural wonders.

The local people of the community are able to consistently upgrade their tourism product and maintain it through the financial support of CBT initiatives

For a community to have an in-depth insight into the value of CBT initiatives, support from tourists is incredibly significant to show them the benefits CBT holds and how it could provide the community reliable means to sustain this livelihood. No matter how big or small your effort of giving back, never underestimate the extent of your endeavours to help the communities. Visiting the common hotspots allows you to sample the exciting perks Borneo has to offer, but for a full immersion of a meaningful adventure during your stay in the land below the wind, CBT delivers an authentic and rewarding experience as well as a window of opportunity for keen travelers seeking meaning in the places they visit.