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By Avila Geraldine

Kota Kinabalu, Feb 15: Sustainable practices, unique experiences, and first-rate facilities are just some aspects rural community-based tourism (CoBT) operators can take away from the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) Danum Valley’s approach to luxury tourism.
Sabah Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Environment Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said communities could gain from a shift towards high-end rural tourism in terms of increased economic opportunities, preservation of local culture and traditions, environmental sustainability, improved infrastructure, and a greater sense of pride and community spirit.
“High-end tourists are individuals who are seeking luxury, unique, and personalised experiences during their travels. They seek out places like BRL for high-quality amenities, service, and special activities that provide a sense of exclusivity and authenticity.
“This is the knowledge and understanding of what makes a high-end tourist product that rural communities need to begin capitalising on a lucrative and growing tourism market to create a more vibrant and prosperous local economy,” he said.
Bangkuai recently led a three-day trip to BRL Danum Valley in Lahad Datu for a product update and to experience luxury eco-tourism with the Sabah Tourism Board (STB)’s Board of Directors and management staff.

Datuk Joniston Bangkuai centre and seated with friends.

Among those in the familiarisation trip were Tourism, Culture, and Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Datuk Mohd Yusrie Abdullah and Federation of Rural Tourism Association Sabah (FeRTAS) president Walter Kandayon, who is also a Board member of STB.
Bangkuai, who is also STB chairman, asserted that rural CoBT operators should not get complacent with the services and quality they already provide.
Instead, they should push themselves to develop distinctive tourism products and services that emphasise luxury and exclusivity, such as offering high-end private villas, gourmet dining, and personalised services, among others.
“When these are in place, rural CoBT operators can collaborate with high-end tour operators to promote their destination and develop customised itineraries that meet the specific needs of high-end tourists,” said Joniston.
Meanwhile, Walter described his visit to the BRL Danum Valley as beneficial for gaining experience and learning how to develop luxury ecotourism products in the countryside.
He added that BRL Danum Valley has proven that rural tourism can provide a great attraction for high-spending tourists from abroad.
“The success of BRL Danum Valley provides a model for other rural and CoBT businesses who aspire to expand into the luxury market.
“I am certain that with a high level of seriousness, our rural areas can produce a product like the BRL in stages, using the experience available and the many resources as well as support provided by the government,” he said.
FeRTAS, in collaboration with STB, has drawn up a 8-year strategic plan to enhance rural tourism offerings and services with the view to elevating those with potential to high-end tourism products.
The BRL Danum Valley is a luxurious eco-lodge located in the heart of the Danum Valley Conservation Area, which is home to a 130-million-year-old ancient rainforest.
It promotes Danum Valley as a pristine tropical rainforest that is carefully developed and strictly regulated without compromising the area’s natural purity, making it an attractive eco-tourism destination for both nature lovers and wealthy tourists.
They have laid out well-thought-out trail routes for guests to enjoy and experience Danum Valley. In addition, they reinforce excellent service by providing the highest level of lodging and relaxation amenities despite their location deep in the forest.
The STB board members and management staff experienced, among others, guided jungle trekking to a waterfall and ancient burial site, a night walk, a canopy walk, a wildlife safari and tubing during the trip. 

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