Rural tourism projects hampered by land issues, says Sabah minister

Rural Development Minister Ewon Benedick (third from left) visits a clinic in Kunak, Sabah, today.

KOTA KINABALU: The huge eco-tourism potential in Sabah’s east coast areas, especially in Kunak, cannot be exploited fully because of land ownership issues, a minister said today.

Rural Development Minister Ewon Benedick said rural folk were eager to venture into eco-tourism but many of the potential areas were situated within forest reserves owned by Sabah Parks or next to land belonging to private companies.

“There are some areas within Kunak that are suitable for eco-tourism but these are situated on plantation land owned by Sime Darby,” he told reporters after being briefed on the Kunak development plan at the district office.

“I think district leaders and Sime Darby could hold a discussion to allow tourism activity within the said areas.

“This is what happened in Kinabatangan where the Forestry Department allowed the Batu Puteh Tourism Cooperative to turn part of the area into a tourism site, and the people are benefiting financially from this understanding.”

Other than the Forestry Department, Benedick said other agencies and departments, such as Sabah Parks, had allowed rural communities to turn some of the land they owned into tourism spots.

He hoped Sime Darby would emulate the example of the Forestry Department and Sabah Parks in allowing tourism activity to take place on its land.

“Indirectly, this would also help build a better image for the company. I will inform the state Cabinet on this situation so the government can discuss the matter with the company and see how this can be realised,” he said.

As part of the government’s effort to promote tourism to generate income for rural folk, Benedick said his ministry had introduced a new rural tourism project under its Mini Estet Sejahtera (Mesej) programme.

Two Mesej sites have been identified for this project – Mesej Kaingaran in Tambunan and Mesej Kinosolodon in Papar.

Rural tourism run by local communities have been showing encouraging results, especially in Kota Belud and Tambunan.

The popularity of rural tourism is due to the fact that many tourists who come to Sabah for its nature and culture such as from the UK, Europe, Australia and Japan tend to avoid travelling to Sabah’s east coast due to the travel advisory against visiting these areas by their governments.

The rural tourism provides a safer alternative to these visitors to enjoy Sabah’s nature without the security concern.