KIULU: Timor Leste is keen to collaborate with Sabah in conservation and community-based tourism (CoBT) initiatives.
Its Secretary of State for Forestry Fernandinho Vieira da Costa conveyed this to Sabah Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai during his recent visit to the Lingga Eco Tourism here.
Fernandinho saw Sabah as a model for successful community engagement in tourism, which Timor Leste can replicate and adapt these practices to its own unique cultural and environmental context.
He highlighted the importance of responsible tourism practices, emphasising the potential for economic growth and cultural preservation through community involvement in the tourism sector.
He said Timor Leste is also interested to learn from Sabah Parks’ expertise in sustainable tourism practice, nature, and wildlife conservation, as well as from the Sabah Forestry Department’s experience in managing and preserving extensive forested areas.
Fernandinho explored Kiulu alongside participants attending the 14th Southeast Asian Biosphere Reserves Network (SeaBRnet) Meeting and International Conference during their post-meeting field trip.
Joniston, who is also Kiulu assemblyman, was present to welcome the group, alongside Sabah Parks director Dr Maklarin Lakim, and Kiulu Tourism Association president Mejin Moginggow.
Notable participants included UNESCO Chair on Education in Biosphere Reserves from Japan’s Yokohama National University Professor Hiroyuki Matsuda, and representative of the Director of UNESCO Jakarta Ryuichi Fukuhara.
The group had gathered at the Lingga Eco Tourism site, where they partake in a wide range of activities from white water rafting to traditional cooking experience, guided village walk, dalai bead making, and traditional wine making, among others.
Meanwhile, Hiroyuki expressed delight at witnessing the community-based tourism initiative in Kiulu, emphasising the positive experience but also noted opportunities for improvement.
He underscored the importance of imparting strong business management skills to rural communities to enhance their ability to run businesses and generate income.
Additionally, he highlighted the vital need for young people, especially graduates, to return to their villages and contribute innovative ideas, drawing parallels to successful practices in Japan that have driven community development.
In his address, Joniston pointed that Kiulu sits within the Crocker Range Biosphere Reserve and highlighted the commitment of Kiulu villagers to collaborative efforts, emphasizing their dedication to empowering the community through tourism initiatives.
Illustrating this commitment, he cited the success of Lingga Eco Tourism, which commenced operations in 2018.
Joniston shared that Lingga Eco Tourism achieved revenue of up to RM20,000 a month providing the community with financial assistance to alleviate villagers’ economic challenges.
“Sabah only started to go strong on rural community tourism in 2014. We are still in an infancy stage as compared to other countries like Indonesia and Thailand.
“Nevertheless, we are swiftly catching up and this highlights the significance of gathering feedback from visitors to identify ways in which our communities can enhance their services and offerings,” he emphasised.
Organised by Sabah Parks in collaboration with the Kiulu Tourism Association, the group’s excursion was a side activity of the 14th SeaBRnet Meeting hosted by Sabah from Nov 13-14.
Centered around the theme “Envisioning People in Biosphere Reserves Living in Harmony with Nature,” the meeting gathered regional and international stakeholders to exchange ideas, best practices, and innovative approaches.
It focused on enhancing community well-being while preserving the ecological integrity of these critical areas.
As for the field trip, all activities were curated to not only offer a unique blend of nature, culture, and tradition but also actively engage and support the local community living in the Crocker Range Biosphere Reserve.