Tour operators banking on the Kinabatangan area must be members of Corridor of life Tourism of Life Association (KiTA) to enable them to work together to promote the Kinabatangan area as a tourism site while benefiting the local populace.
Presently KiTA has 13 members with 17 lodges who are carrying out their tour operations. Their membership ensure that all operators are under the association wing, which will result in a more concerted effort towards applying the fundamentals of eco-tourism.
Eco tourism in its totality involves visiting natural areas such as wilderness and rural environment, and not only enjoying the sites and sights but also contribute to the well-being of the local people.
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, defines ecotourism as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
These norms are adopted by KITA and presently they are trying to adhere to them as much as possible.
Its President Alexander Yee says it all started in 2008 when the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Environment organised a stakeholder consultative workshop enitled “Policiy Direction and Action for the Kinabatangan corridor of life. This was to map out policies that will ensure sustainable development, and at that time stake holders from various industries within the area including oil palm, tourism local communities, Non-Governmental Development were invited to give their input and views on matters pertaining to the topic.
One of the recommended actions then was the formation of the lodge operators association, he shares adding that this lead to a meeting held in in May 2008 initiated by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a KITA protem committee was formed in coordination with WWF. At that time they started to collect voluntary conservation levy (VCL) which was later turned to conservation levy.
In June 2009, KITA was officially launched at Kg Bilit, by Datuk Masidi Manjun the Minister of Tourism Culture and Environment.
In all this, KITA has a mission for Kinabatangan, as Alexander states which are to promote and implement a globally recognised sustainable tourism industry within the Kinabatangan area, and ensure that it benefits the people, the planet and they garner profit too.
He says the main objective is to provide a credible advocacy platform for stakeholders to champion the mission.
“We also wish to safeguard and protect tourism natural assets by introducing or promoting better management practices of natural assets in various forums, establish working relationships with NGO’s and other relevant expert groups, establish sustainable funding mechanism to finance conservation and support the Sabah Wildlife Department as keeper of the Sanctuary,” he says.
“We also want to develop and implement better management practices that ensures the sustainable development of the tourism industry in Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life (K-Col),” he says adding that KiTA will develop and implement a credible “code of conduct” for wildlife viewing, good environmental practice including socially responsible practices and collaborate with relevant stakeholders to develop a credible certification of “sustainability” of lodges.
“We want to develop and implement a global brand name for tourism in K-CoL by aligning members along the brand name “Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life”, develop a unified communications message regarding the K-CoL and to educate all stakeholders and the public on the brand and the unique selling points of K-CoL.”
Towards ensuring the sustainability of the K-Col, he says programmes like tree planting is ongoing, creating awareness of KiTA and its functions, as well as community services and capacity building for the community.
“The first tree planting by KiTA was at Kg Bilit in March 2011 which coincided with the World Forestry Day; its located at Pangi some 20 minutes away from Sukau Rainforest Lodge,” he shares.
KiTA has done a lot for the area since, including the donation of electric fence converter to Sukau Cemetery in Dec 2012, battery and small gen-set donation during the Medical Camp in November last year.
As for the future, Alexander says he is very optimistic that all programmes to be implemented in that area will be a success as his association will work with government agencies to preserve Lower Kinabatangan, and continue to build human capacity in that area. There will be river patrolling as well as increase of membership.
“We are also very excited about the setting up of Tabung Kampung where proceeds from certain activities will be donated,” he says.
He urges operators that wish to ply the Kinabatangan area to join KiTA so that they can work together to ensure a sustainable ecotourism.
“As of January this year, it is compulsory for them to join the association. It’s a directive from the Ministry. They only need to pay a one-time entry and of course an annual membership fee. They however must have a Tour Agent permit and a trading license,” he shares.
The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, with a length of 560 kilometres from its headwaters in the mountains of southwest Sabah, to its outlet at the Sulu Sea, east of Sandakan.
Kinabatangan is known for its remarkable wildlife including the Prosbocis Monkey and the Orang Utan. Fascinating habitats such as limestone caves at Gomantong hill, dryland dipterocarp forests, riverine forest, freshwater swamp forest, oxbow lakes and salty mangrove swamps near the coast are also found along the river.- Sayangsabah.