Urban and rural flower fields can boost tourism
Published on: Sunday, September 04, 2022
By: Eskay Ong
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Aquatic Flower Fields made up of the common water hyacinth.
IT IS good that many countries around the world including Malaysia have now transitioned from Covid-19 pandemic to endemic stage while lifting the numerous restrictions and controls previously imposed. 

This is jubilant news indeed as people are more free to unchain themselves to do the things they have always wanted to do, or to gorge themselves up at their favourite warung or gerai, or to visit the places where the trips have been put on hold for the last few years.  

In many foreign countries, one of the most popular places to visit is related to nature, with a big role that is covered by horticulture and floriculture. Urban and rural planners there are far-sighted and bold enough to capitalise on the tributes provided by nature, and by working with the professionals in the two fields with the ‘culture’ suffixes, as well as other relevant specialisations, various chic and glamorous terms have regularly been vigorously hyped.  

These include terms such as sustainable, rural tourism, zero or low carbon, world class, upgrading of tourism products, ecotourism, rural gems and stunning delights of nature, to name a few.

Flower fields made up of canola in China.

Flower fields made up of chrysanthmum in Vietnam.


These are all aimed to enrapture and mesmerise visitors irrespective of whether they are local or from the developed countries or whether they are the well-heeled and loaded tourists, or those on shoestring budgets such as backpackers, tramps and drifters in shorts and slippers, or the simple kucing kurap travellers. The primary objective is to entice them to stay longer to be bathed in the soothing comfort and ecstatic joy of local practices and specialities and in the process loosening their purse strings without resistance. When this happens, of course it is happy days for everyone right down to the ulu folks who live close by the rural tourist hotspots that have plenty of natural gems and alluring delights of nature in what is nowadays widely known as rural tourism.

Vast flower fields of sunflower.


Vast flower fields of tulip.

In recent years, Malaysia is also looking at nature in a more focused way with the paramount objective of monetising the natural assets in the hope that lots of money may be raked in. The powers-that-be have certainly seen the huge hole left by the pandemic in terms of dwindling visitor numbers and tourism receipts. Other sectors of the economy are also affected but looking at the figures released by tourism.gov.my website, the juicy plum in tourism actually shrivelled out and suffered a huge nosedive. Suddenly, many people were struggling to fill the hole as a result of being laid off and slogging just to get by, with the main goal of finding the next meal being of utmost importance.   

In fact, the collapse of the economies of some countries has been partly attributed to the loss of multi-billion dollar tourism revenue that often tops up the national coffers of many countries, and where their national planners have come to take for granted that the receipts from international tourist arrivals is as sure as the sunrise come the next morning. When the unexpected bang came in the form of Covid-19 pandemic, many countries were caught flat-footed and were in a daze for many months.   Finally, reality sank in to reveal a crash in tourism receipts to less than a bare one percent of the collections of pre-pandemic days.

Figures released by tourism.gov.my website shows that Malaysia was not able to avoid the pitfall that afflicted the entire world, but at least, the crash wasn’t terribly awful considering that tourist arrivals and receipts in the year 2021, were still a meaningful but paltry 135 thousand visitors and RM238 million, respectively. However, this compares, starkly and shockingly, on opposite poles, against the 2019 figures which revealed a sky high 26.1 million visitor numbers and receipts of RM86 billion.  

The figures are so telling and glaring as it affects the national coffers to an enormous degree, thereby reducing the development expenditure to a great extent as well as affecting the quantum of dedak that can be splashed out. This scenario affects just about every country in the world with colossal loses suffered during the last couple of years.  It is hoped that the dark clouds and bleak days are becoming things of the past with the good times and good money coming on stream in the days ahead.

One of the bright spots in the hopes of many countries is the expected return of the flood of tourist movements around the world. In this, Malaysia and Sabah are spot on to receive the windfall from the tourist high tide which, hopefully, shall be giving a breather to both the federal and states.  

As I have written many times before, the drop in visitor numbers was actually a blessing a disguise, and he who is prepared shall ride the boom with bountiful harvests. This means to say that those states, Sabah included, and organisations that had taken advantage of the last couple of years to build up or upgrade their tourism products, or create new ones, should now be thanking their foresight when the tsunami of visitors start to flood into the state. These are the ones that are all ready to reap what they had sown.

In fact, the media has been awash with news that declared that fields such as eco-tourism are huge contributors to the national and state coffers. This is proven by the fact that during the pandemic, many were thrown out of their jobs and into the streets, with many businesses linked to tourism having gone limbs up, gulung tikar, lingkup, or some other terms that indicate a folding-up of business, etc.   

What are flower fields

Flower fields attract gawkers and oglers. Unfortunately, there are very few people who have heard of flower fields, and much lesser who have actually seen one. But such fields are plentiful in foreign countries such as Vietnam, China, Japan, Spain, Holland, England, and several other countries where they attract huge numbers of visitors.

Originally, flower fields were meant to fulfil an economic purpose such as lavender for the extraction of an essential oil, canola for its edible oil, chrysanthemums for its beverage use, and so on. Since such fields were normally set up on a large scale, the blooms that came on the scene were very striking and picturesque. The scenery thus became a must-see site for countless numbers of visitors, with splashing money being part of the job.

Over the years, such economic crops have doubled up as rural tourism products and in the process earning billions for the landowners, developers, horticulturists, consultants, government agencies, upstream and downstream processors, restaurants, kopitiams, transporters, tourism players etc. This is what is currently happening with tulips in Holland, lavender flower fields in France and England, sunflower fields in Spain, canola flower fields in China, chrysanthemum flower fields in Vietnam, and so on.  

Those people are getting wealthy, happy and healthy, being fed on a diet of tourism and business dollars, and if they can do it, there is no reason for Sabah to be so lembek as to be unable to capitalise on the same and at the same time, to alleviate the economic position of the rural people. It’s three birds with one stone.  Being lembek, impotent or incompetent is one matter, but being bold and able to leverage on an existing asset to eradicate rural poverty is altogether another matter.

There are plenty of locations all over Sabah that are suitable for the establishment of flower fields to boost rural tourism. Urban flower fields are also possible although with smaller plots. The main areas that are magnificent and breath-taking are located at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu especially in Kundasang. 

The stretch from Kimanis to Keningau is also perfect for flower fields, as well as the Kota Belud-Kota Marudu corridor. They are well-endowed with plenty of low hills, undulating terrain and rolling landscapes which are perfect for flower fields.

These places already have beautiful flowering shrubs scattered all over as they are already well-established in those areas.  For example, Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) and White Elderberries are widespread in Kundasang and they grow very well on their own without care or maintenance. Bunchosia and Yellow Bells have bright yellow flowers that tend to bloom in masses on a continuous basis. 

These attributes allow the shrubs to remain rooted at the particular location perpetually as they are perennial woody shrubs. At the moment, most of them are loosely scattered and as such, the colour impact from the blooms is not stunning. At watery locations, lotus and the humble water hyacinth make for very visible and outstanding aquatic flower fields.

An easy and economical way to enhance the colour prominence is to plant the shrubs at a higher density and over a larger area. A single hectare of land should be a good start, with space to cover 2,500 planting points. 

Many of the species are also economic crops apart from being the magnet to pull in visitors to enrich the local poor. With expanded areas, some say it is even possible to see the colour from the peak of Mount Kinabalu. Amazing indeed.

The total cost that is inclusive of planting materials, planting charges, and a two-year maintenance, plus some manures, fertilisers and pest and disease control, should not exceed RM50,000. This compares very favourably with a few cement coconuts, oranges, cabbages on tiled or cement floors that are sited at roundabouts, that may cost two to five times more.

The above may be just a simple discourse on the unending possibilities that are available within Sabah’s natural wonders. To tap into the goldmine, it is necessary for good leaders to step forward, get creative, be farsighted and bold, and start the upgrading or development of products and attractions. Remember, all journeys begin with a single step.


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December 20, 2014