'Cannot afford to disturb Sukau'
Published on: Saturday, February 22, 2020
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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SANDAKAN: The Government cannot afford to make any mistake by disturbing the eco-tourism goldmine the Kinabatangan, including Sukau, holds for Sabah’s tourism by seriously taking the Covid-19 virus outbreak into consideration.

President of Kinababatangan- Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association (KiTA), Alex Yee (pic), said there was hardly a cancellation by European and other tourists to the Lower Kinabatangan to view the elephants, orang utans and proboscis monkeys, despite the China tourist market having ground to a halt.

He was stating the case for leaving Sabah’s portion of Bornean rainforest in Kinabatangan untouched at the UMS Presentation of Findings and Workshop on Guidelines and Framework on Responsible Practices at Kinabatangan, a research carried out by Prof. Jennifer Chan, Head of the Borneo Tourism Research Centre since 2016. 

Yee noted that the virus cost Malaysian hotels to lose RM66m overnight through 157,000 hotel booking cancellations. However, the strong iconic wildlife and rainforest experience in the Lower Kinabatangan have kept eco tourist flow robust. 

“The Lower Kinabatangan area is a very very special area which alone contributes RM100m of tourist receipts per year to the Sandakan district by mainly top money paying European tourists who usually one night at Sepilok, two nights at Lower Kinabatangan before more than 50pc of them proceed further to Danum Valley or Tabin,” he noted. 

The power of the Lower Kinabatangan to sustain its attractiveness to European tourists sends a very strong message to everybody in Sabah not to just let things happen to it but do all they can to protect it to ensure their supreme motivation and expectation that keep these quality tourist coming do not collapse, Yee said. Citing the UMS research findings, Yee said: 

“We want to make our facilities, our services, our offerings world class. 

“Then recently there was some talk and rumour that the State Government might be revisiting the possibility of building a bridge which was cancelled two years ago.

“I hope from today’s findings we will be able to put across a very strong message (to the decision makers) that a lot of people’s livelihoods are dependent upon the wellbeing of Lower Kinabatangan,” Yee said. 

“It will be very foolish to destroy an environment that is doing extremely well for Sabah,” he said. 

“Last year Sabah’s tourism receipts for the China business was 40pc of our tourist arrivals, now with this virus you will see that our Sandakan area with a different market segment altogether where we targeted the European tourists I can safely say we are not affected. 

“This is a strong message I will put across to our State policy makers that in the event that they really do want to consider the bridge, consider that the Lower Kinabatangan actually provides a different segment which has saved us (industry) from a complete wipe out,” he said.

“We have always been working hard towards targeting a different market. 

“The China market crash proves it is important to diversify, not to put all our eggs in one basket and this time it has shown to our State and the rest of the world that we have made the right decision.

“I do wish that if they want to proceed with the bridge we would like them to reconsider the decision,” he said.  

The State Government has yet to confirm whether it would be making yet another U-turn since coming to power by reviving the Sukau bridge in Kinabatangan, which was scrapped by the previous State Barisan Nasional government under Tan Sri Musa Aman.

Sime Darby also threatened to stop funding conservation projects in Sabah if the bridge proposal went ahead.

At the height of the controversy, an elected representative there infamously also posed the question as to whether elephants or humans were more important, which raised the ire of nature lovers.

Among the strongest critics of the project was the world’s premier conservationist, Sir David Attenborough, who popularised the Kinabatangan as an ecotourism haven through his BBC wildlife documentaries.

When the project was cancelled, he said it proved that there was still hope in some places in the world today for the environment where there almost seemed to be none. 

The Kinabatangan was also the subject of the world’s very first wildlife documentary with the 1920 silent movie era production of “Jungle Adventure” by pioneer filmmakers Martin and Osa Johnson.   



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