As the nation progresses and rapid development shapes the landscape of our country, inevitably people are travelling from one place to another to work, study or just for leisure resulting in a burgeoning tourism sector.
With the strengthening influx of travellers into Malaysia, the nation is focusing on presenting itself as a diverse tourist attraction that offers world class attractions such as culture and heritage, ecotourism, Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE), shopping, international events and health tourism, which presents visitors from all over the world a plethora of choices to enjoy.
The tourism sector has been recognised by the government as a major source of revenue and a catalyst for the Malaysian economic renaissance.
In 2011, tourist arrivals into Malaysia was up to 24,714,324 compared with 24,577,196 in 2010, while its tourism receipts increased to RM58.3 billion in 2011 compared with RM56.5 billion the previous year.
In addition, the sector contributed a total of RM37.4 billion to the Gross National Income (GNI) of the country.
The major tourist markets for 2011 were Singapore, Indonesia, China, Australia, United Kingdom, and Japan.
Realising this potential, the government, through various initiatives under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) has mapped out a set of deliverables for the Tourism Ministry in order to stimulate sustainable tourism as the nation races to achieve its high-income status by 2020.
Sarawak, in particular has not been sidelined in this sector.
In fact, the state recorded some 3.8 million tourist arrivals in 2012 so far, which is a solid increased from two million tourists during the same period in 2011.
Statistic from Ministry of Tourism Sarawak showed that out of the total tourist arrivals for 2102 thus far, 38 per cent of the 3.8 million visitors were foreigners.
Most compelling is that this tourism sector has brought in RM7.2 billion in tourism receipts for the state in 2011, which is about 13.5 per cent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Tourism has indeed making a significant contribution to the nation’s economy.
In her capacity as Minister of Tourism, Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said, “There is still untapped potential within the tourism sector that can provide a viable growth platform for the country.” She said that one of the most successful programmes that have been identified by the ministry was the ‘Homestay programme’ which surpassed its target of 23 per cent of occupancy rate and had thus far achieved a rate of 32 per cent since homestay programme was introduced in sometime in the middle of the year 2000.
The total number of tourists who chose homestays throughout the country increased by 55 per cent between January and June this year, compared with the same period last year.
Tourism Malaysia, deputy director-general, Datuk Azizan Nordin said, “The total home stay programme revenue between January and June 2012 is RM8,710,526 million, which was an increase of 45.2 per cent compared with the same period last year.
Ng added that participants of the homestay programme had been able to earn a substantial income and the activity had helped to generate more economic activities at the local level for the people.
“The focus of the homestay programme is not merely about accommodation but also showcases Malaysia’s rich cultural heritage lifestyle in a unique and interesting manner,” she conveyed.
To validate the claims that this so-called ‘ grass – root Homestay tourism – a burgeoning sector in attracting more tourists tourism’ is a thriving sector for the state, BizHIve Weekly had an exclusive interview with the president of Sarawak Homestay Association, Jamilah Shukri who agreed that the homestay tourism was indeed a promising revenue generator for the country’s tourism sector.
In fact, the homestay programme was conceived to increase the participation of the rural population in the tourism sector and help them to uplift their economic status.
She said that homestays were very much associated with culture, adventure and nature (CAN) that was widely promoted by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia.
“From the word CAN alone, it can be a very broad understanding about what homestay is all about,” she said, adding that when people stayed in a rural village, the visitors were invited to experience the daily and regular life of village folks.
“In the village, you can have a unique way of living that is more nature oriented such as going to the farm to harvest vegetables and fishing in the river to catch fi sh for daily food sustenance,” she elaborated.
Unlike the urban city life where one’s life is all about earning money to keep up with the cost of living and buying food necessities from the grocery stores.
When asked if the growth of homestay would be sustainable in the future, she said that it was a sustainable business as evidenced by the increasing number of homestays in the state.
Currently, there are a total of 28 registered homestays operating in Sarawak comprising about more than 400 operators.
Not surprising, Kuching has the most homestays.
A homestay according to Jamilah was best referred to as a village be it Malay, Iban, Bidayuh or other ethnic villages and operators were the independent house owners who participated in the homestay business model by allowing guests to stay at their houses and experience the daily way of life living in village ambience.
In a nutshell, the concept of homestay is where a specifi c village has few operators, minimum 20 operators who participate in offering accommodation to the guests.
The operators are ordinary family units who welcome a visitor or guest to stay with them and experience the rural way of life whilst staying with the family.
Jamilah said in every homestay, there must be one coordinator whose role was like a leader to facilitate the arrangements in a homestay business.
This coordinator should be unanimously selected by the villagers.
Asked how much was the start-up capital needed to open a homestay, she replied that there was no initial capital needed but it was solely on a person’s own initiatives.
“There is no initial capital needed to start a homestay because the operators use their own houses, whatever you have in the village such as a community hall, football field or others, you utilise it.
The only thing is how you sell your product and make it more attractive to the guest,” she highlighted.
In fact, homestay is about business that is presenting your product in the form of your house, the facilities in the village, the culture or tradition of the people and the adventure of going through nature’s richness that appeals to the guest.
“There are 28 homestay in Sarawak and the guests have the choice to choose whether they want to experience the different ethnicity of the people of Sarawak whether Bidayuh, Iban, Malay, Chinese, Orang Ulu, Melanau,” she said.
She said that after running a homestay business for minimum three years the government would provide grants in terms of fi nancial and infrastructure to the village.
“It is an allocation grant meant for infrastructures, upgrading of facilities in the village,” she said adding the grants were applicable to all the homestay operators in Sarawak.
Jamilah acknowledged that the government had been helping the homestay sector a lot through the initiatives made by Ministry of Tourism and one of its agenda was having an outreach programme by visiting other homestays within Malaysia.
She praised the hospitality of Sarawak people who were known to be very friendly, polite and understanding compared with the hospitality shown by other states in Malaysia that she had visited.
“Our hospitality can be seen through the sharing, giving and caring nature Sarawakians have within them.
To me our hospitality is number one and I’m very impressed with our people, you cannot deny it.
This is our strongest selling point,” she affirmed.
“Of course, when we know we are strong in our hospitality, we must not compromise on the quality or our products and services such as the safety, cleanliness, and comfortability we offer to the guest who stay with us,” she pointed out.
In economic aspects, a homestay in the village provides a ripple-effect to the rural villagers to earn some income.
They can earn money through the economic spin offs from the homestay business such as opening food stalls to attract people to buy, hence giving the villagers an opportunity to earn a living.
“Having a homestay in the rural area can benefit everybody.
When you put things together, everybody will have the opportunity to earn money,” she said.
Jamilah advised homestay operators to treat and to take care of their homestays just like the hotel business, saying that when one thought business, it meant having the potential income your business could generate.
“People don’t mind premium rates if they think the products and service quality are good,” she said.
Jamilah reckoned homestay operators now had a stronger voice through the association which was formed just last year as it represented its members in any issues pertaining to homestay tourism.
To elevate the homestay programme in the state, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) had been assisting the homestay operators by promoting it domestically and internationally.
The board was looking for quality homestays to promote overseas.
Hence, Jamilah cautioned that not all homestays in Sarawak were ready to be promoted internationally just yet because there were still many factors to be considered among the homestay operators in delivering the best quality of its products and services.
“Homestay is a business by itself and it is not easy to manage it.
If you are ready to promote your homestay globally, you must be ready to deliver the very best to the overseas guests who will come and stay with you.
So, you have to protect the name of our country by not delivering sub-standard products and services,” she added.
In summing up the interview, Jamilah mentioned that she had a goal to achieve for the association before her two-year term of being president ended in 2013.
Her goal, she revealed was to organise a Hari Raya open house in a big scale sometime in August next year, whereby all the homestays in the Kuching division could get together at one venue.
“Through this avenue, every homestay can offer tie-up packages for the visitors at the open house to have a stay at different homestays to experience the diverse ethnic groups in Sarawak.
“We will also get the travel agencies to participate to facilitate the package deliveries such as transportation and other aspects,” she enthused.