Homestays urged to be more professional

GETTING READY: Guest dancers from Misompuru Homestay Kudat rehearsing for the festival.

THE homestays in Kundasang, Ranau, need to upgrade not only the level of professionalism in dealing with their clientele but also the quality of their packages and accommodation facilities.

“We need to be more co-ordinated and cohesive in tapping the homestay market effectively,” said Kohadie Watiman, vice president of the Homestay Association Malaysia.

Kohadie Watiman

“I think we have been fairly successful in our venture and I believe we will continue thrive in this industry provided we do not remain complacent but continue to make improvements as and when necessary,” he added.

His own Walai Tokou Homestay in Kundasang had been making its presence felt all over Malaysia in recent months through the promotion of its tourism products.

This presence was further enhanced when the outfit was officially declared a Kampungstay — meaning it’s no longer identified through its homes and village but the villages are recognised within the programme as one for Villagestay.

Walai Tokou, sited within the mountainuous district of Kundasang, has been in operation for several years now and since grown by leaps and bounds, according Kohadie, chairman of the Kampungstay in the area.

“We started in my village — Kampung Sinisian — several years ago. We were banking on our cultural and traditional heritage at that time, sharing what we had with our tourists.

“Personally, my passion was bamboo music and we gathered our youths, friends and family to create our own traditional bamboo music. We learned to play the music and performed in and outside the country. I must say we have been quite successful.

“Maybe our success was through our perseverance to make everything work. We went through tremendous learning stages but in the end, we managed to put up our homestay here — and other villages started to follow suit. More houses in our area started to run their own homestays and soon we were thriving,” he recalled.

CULTURAL SHOW: Dancers from the Walai Tokou Homestay performing during the festival.

There are now 15 participants under the Kampungstay with three more villagers signing up recently.

Kohadie pointed out that the Walai Tokou Kampungstay was banking on Nature and the people’s way of life as its “pulling power.”

“Our tourism products include visits to the highland vegetable and strawberry farm, the rose garden, the dairy farm, the Poring Hotspring, the Canopy walk and waterfall,” he said, adding that among the other sites being promoted are Sabah Tea Garden, the Luanti Tagal and Fish spa, the War Memorial and the Nunuk Ragang Monument.

“I’m happy the homestay participants are actively promoting these areas and I hope they will continue to do so – and take care of their compound to ensure a clean and green environment.”

On the traditional side, Kohadie and his team are promoting bamboo-music songs and dances as well as handicrafts production.

Two new homestays

Meanwhile, two new homestays were launched by Malaysia Homestay Association president Dato Haji Shariman Hamdan during the recent Music Festival under the Kampungstay programme.

The first kampungstay belongs to Sharil Samson Boon while the two other houses to Gemulah and Latifah Hahi Sahajali.

Shariman said he was happy with the growth of the homestay programme, believing there were various tourism potentials in the state yet to be tapped.

“Sabah has a unique landscape set amidst a beautiful natural environment – so it has a lot to offer.”

PLAQUE-SIGNING: Shariman signing the plaque on behalf of the homestay participants.

He said the villagers must not be shy or feel apprehensive about starting a homestay, pointing out that he started on his own without any encouragement from fellow villagers in Pahang.

“But they will see our progress if we persevere and show we can do it. It must be remembered that homestays had very low profile a few years ago but now, there are 159 villages involved in Malaysia and I personally have 34 rooms to offer tourists.”

He noted there were various villages in Sabah that may be suitable for homestays with attractive beaches, seas and islands around to lure the tourists.

“If the contention is roads, communication, electricity and water, then the relevant authorities have to look into it. But they won’t know about these problems if the villagers don’t provide the feedback.

“Therefore, the Homestay Association chairman and committee must sit down with the villagers for a dialogue. They have to deliberate on the matter extensively, jotting down all the amenities needed and forwarding them to the relevant authorities. I’m sure those concerned can evaluate the feasibility of the infrastructural layout and provide the villagers with the basic amenities to function within the homestay programme.”

According to Shariman, villagers requiring financial support to upgrade their facilities could borrow from the various related establishments with low interest rates.

“There are loan schemes for this sort of enterprise but it must be stressed the funds should be properly channelled to upgrade the homestays and all the initial plans otherwise the participants may encounter difficulties and problems.”

He stressed the homestay committee of the area had to play their part in providing proper guidance to the participants.

“There should be teamwork to ensure the programme works — competition must be healthy.”

He also hoped all homestay participants would provide tourists with what had been promised in their promotion campaigns and brochures.

“The tourists came because they were attracted by the offerings published or told to them, and as such, what was promised should always be fulfilled. Don’t advertise products or activities that could not be carried out or impossible to carry out,” he said, adding that any endeavour to make a living is laudable but not through fraud.

On the impact of tourism and other cultures on the locals, he said it was important for homestay participants and those involved to be strong in their cultural and traditional values.

“We must know our own identity and stick to it. Tourists may have their own views but they come to us and thus they want to know our values. We share our values with them, not the other way round. We don’t emulate them, they should emulate us.”

Shariman lauded the determination of the Walai Tokou Kampungstay to succeed, hailing it as one of the best places to stay in the Kundasang Ranau region.

The three-day Music Festival, organised by the Walai Tokou Homestay-Kampungstay in Kundasang, was a scene of pomp and pageantry which made the event (Sept 14 to 16) especially memorable.