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Sabah – A Paradise in South-East Asia

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Malaysia’s mega familiarisation tour programme (commonly known as mega fam) started on 11th February 2020 and went on till 15th February 2020. As it’s almost summer time here in Malaysia, this Mega Fam was planned in conjunction with Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and Adventure Travel Conference & Mart (ATCM) 2020 – Sabah.

PATA & ATCM 2020 – Sabah is being held at Sutera Harbour Resort, Kota Kinabalu here in Sabah from 12th February 2020 ~ 14th February 2020. Some of the recent events have been held in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India; Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Chiang Rai, Thailand; Luoyang, China; and Thimphu, Bhutan. The event’s choice of host destination reflects the growing importance of dispersing tourists to emerging destinations.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and Adventure Travel Confernce & Mart (ATCM) 2020 is Asia Pacific’s leading travel trade event dedicated to the adventure travel industry. This event comprises of a ‘one-day travel trade mart’ and ‘one-day conference’, along with sightseeing tours and hosted social functions to facilitate networking and relationship building. ATCM2020 is kindly hosted by Tourism Malaysia and supported by Sabah Tourism & Malaysia Airlines.

ONE DAY TRAVEL & TRDAE MART: This travel and trade mart is aimed at developming tourism through pre-matched appointments, meet face-to-face with adventure product buyers and sellers from across the world including state, regional and local tourism agencies from established and emerging markets, unique accommodation providers and tour operators.

ONE-DAY CONFERENCE: One day conference will explore the nuances, trends and dynamics of one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors. The programme brings together international experts at the forefront of the adventure travel industry from both private and public sectors to discuss the sector’s issues and opportunities.

THE DESTINATION: Situated on the beautiful island of Borneo, Sabah is the second largest of thirteen states that comprise Malaysia, sharing the island with Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan. From one of Southeast Asia’s highest mountain – Mt. Kinabalu to one of the world’s top dive sites – Sipadan Island, with the world’s largest flower – the Rafflesia – in its lush rainforest, Sabah offers an infinite playground for the most adventurous travel explorers.

First Day of our Mega Fam trip started with our arrival on 11th February 2020 at Kota Kinabalu International Airports. some of the participants had arrived a day earlier on 10th February 2020. Immediately after clearnace from airport we were greeted very warmly by our tour guides Mr. Basil Lung and Ms. Catherine Tan and both of them seemed very hospitable as most of the Malaysians are. From airport we took a twenty minute ride towards our accommodation which was arranged at Grandis Hotels & Resorts. After check-in media briefing was scheduled, where 36 media personnals were present to hear what officials Mega Fam has to say. 02 Mega Fam officals were to act as host for us thorough-out the entire trip. After media briefing we headed towards sunset dinner planned on a cruise. after a light and quick supper we headed back towards our hotel and with that day one came to an end.

We got up early on day two as we were scheduled to go to Tagal Tinopikon Park, which is approximately 25 km away from our hotel. Drive from hotel lasted around 35 minutes. Tagal Tinopikon Park is located at Kg. Notoruss, Penampang. We were told that if we were to experience authentic nature village life, a visit to this place is a must. We visited village house and also fruits garden adjacent to it. Nature felt at its peak here in the village and then we then participated in village games too.  Ambiance and environment around us was way too peaceful and worth remembering. One of Malaysia’s best exports is its rubber, which can be found in abundance in trees all around. We also witnessed rubber tree tapping demo which was one of its kind experience.

Onward jungle trekking led us to a mini waterfall and from there we ended up in a river known as Moyog River. Here we got to know the actual meaning of the word ‘Tagal’, which simply means ‘no fishing zone’. This place is managed by the local community and fishing around this area is prohibited. There are friendly Pelian (toothless) fishes welcoming you, if you enter barefoot in the river. We also tried our hand at swimming and then we also fed the fishes. Finally we were treated with excellent firewood cooked local food prepared by the local community. After a very healthy locally prepared lunch our trip to Tagal Tinopikon Park came to an end.

From there we took a two hour long drive to Klias Wet-Land Adventures, where a river safari was waiting for us. Klias Wildlife Safari via River Cruise was to be our next adventurous trip. It is approximately 114km from Kota Kinabalu City to Klias Wet-Lands. Located on the Klias Peninsula is the Klias Wetland, which is also mangrove forest reserve. As we cruised down the Klias River in an open boat, our eyes were searching for the endemic proboscis monkeys, long tailed macaques, the rare silver languor, and other wildlife along the riverbank. The bizarre-looking proboscis monkey is gaining as much popularity with the tourists as the orang-utans and the Klias Wet-Land with its large proboscis population is fast becoming the latest ecotourism destination in Sabah.

Proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), nicknamed “Monyet Belanda” or “Dutchman”, are endangered mammals that are endemic to Borneo. Their key characteristics are the huge pendulous noses used to attract mates, big bellies, their striking colours fur coats for adults, and a permanently erect bright red penis seen in mature males. They live in organized harem groups consisting of a dominant male and up to 24 females with their offspring. They have webbed feet and hands to help them outpace the crocodiles, one of their main predators. Proboscis monkeys survive mainly on a diet of leaves, seeds, and unripe fruits but will occasionally consume insects as well. The only fruit they will eat are unripe fruits, as the sugars in ripe fruits can ferment in their stomachs and cause fatal bloating.

As dusk was settling in, our thoughts were on sunset and sights and sounds that come along with it. We had a sumptuous village style dinner and after our minds were to head toward our hotel but we were in for another surprise ahead of us. We were told that the show’s was not over yet though, we were heading towards the mangrove swamp for one more trip and this time it is graced by the secret rhythm of fire-flies and their flickering lights. This ended our day two and off we towards our hotels.

On day three we were schedule to attend The PATA Adventure Travel Conference and Mart 2020, which started a day earlier on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 in Kota Kinabalu. This conference attracted 347 delegates from 33 destinations for the three-day for this niche event. International delegates comprised 40% of the total. Encompassing a one-day-travel mart and one-day conference, the B2B trade mart on Friday, February 14 will welcome 51 seller organizations from 9 destinations and 45 buyer organizations from 21 source markets.

On our third day we had the privilege to listen a diverse line-up of speakers at the one-day conference under the theme ‘Ahead of the Curve: Authenticity and Sustainability in Adventure’. The innovators and pioneers, who are shaping the emerging landscape of the adventure travel industry, will examine various conference topics that cover ‘State of Adventure Tourism’, ‘Who Are Our Adventure Tourists?’, ‘Creating Meaningful Adventures’, ‘Sustainable Elephant Experiences’, ‘How to Use Responsible Travel Initiatives to Attract Adventure Tourists’, and ‘Starting Small: How to Integrate Adventure Elements into Your Tour.’

This year’s conference programme also features two concurrent hands-on workshops on Sustainability, led by Natasha Martin, Adventure Tourism Expert; Raj Gyawali, Founder, Social tours, and Jessica Yew, Co-Founder & Director, Sticky Rice Travel, and Authenticity which will be led Dan Moore, CEO of Pandion Consulting & Facilitation.

This event, which was organized by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and hosted by Tourism Malaysia and supported by Sabah Tourism and Malaysia Airlines, brought together international experts at the forefront of the adventure travel industry to explore the nuances, trends and dynamics of one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors.

The conference was inaugurated by YB Datuk Mohamaddin bin Ketapi, Minister, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Malaysia, who said; ““We are very pleased to be given the honour to host PATA this year, whose theme ‘Authenticity and Sustainability in Adventure’ is in line with our aspirations to highlight Malaysia’s outdoor and adventure attractions to cater to the growing adventure tourism market while adhering to responsible travel initiatives.”

Dr. Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA said; “I would like to sincerely thank all our delegates and speakers for joining us in Malaysia to discuss, analyse and share their various ideas in planning, building and promoting a responsible travel and tourism industry, particularly during the current corona-virus crises. I would also like to thank our hosts for having taken extra precautions to ensure the health and safety our delegates during their stay in Sabah”.

Some of the other speakers included Graham Harper Director Sustainability & Social Responsibility at PATA, Irshad Mubarak owner of Jungle-walla Tours, Pakkanut Bansiddhi, DVM, MSc, PhD, Lecturer at Department of Companion Animals & Wildlife Clinics Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Chiang Mai University and Theerapat Trungprakan, President, Thai Elephant Alliance Association.

After inauguration, panel discussions and speeches, we headed toward an excellent mouth watering lunch and from there we headed towards our next destination, which was Mari Mari Cultural Village.

The Mari Mari Cultural Village is situated amidst a remote forest setting in Kionsom, Inanam; away from the hustling and bustling city. Its surrounding atmosphere may faintly remind you of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ in the Sabahan sense.  In the village, you will be introduced to various traditional homes of Sabahan ethnic communities – the Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun, which are built by descendants of the tribes which they represent.

For a more hands-on experience, we went into the little huts in the village where daily routines of traditional Sabahan life come alive. We also grabbed the chance to see blowpipe-making demonstration, fire-starting demonstration using bamboo, tattoo-making demonstration, and get an in-depth look at the mystical symbolisms behind them. Visitors will also get chance to sample Sabahan traditional delicacies from each ethnic group.

A visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village will be a cultural excursion of a lifetime! See, taste and feel the essence of Sabah presented to you as it was and as it is. Mari Mari!!

After a Mari Mari experience, we were to head to Marriott Hotel in Kota Kinabalu, where a dinner reception hosted by Tourism Malaysia was waiting for us. After dinner reception we were ready to head back to our hotel for resting and for concluding day three.

As per routine, day four also started early and our fourth day’s first destination was Kiulu River for rafting. We were told that this rafting program is a perfect ‘warming-up’ for the beginners (first timers) before attempting much higher grade rivers. It is also suitable for thrill seekers preferring a mild rafting adventure whilst enjoying the picturesque surroundings. The excursion covers up to 15km with duration of 1 hour 30 minutes (especially when the water level is high), making it the longest white-water rafting experience in Sabah, Borneo. While having fun and enjoyable moments, you can also relax your mind and soul with the beautiful enchanting scenery that you will see along the river. This was by far the most thrilling and adventurous ride that we had taken throughout the trip. After a very adventurous trip we headed back to our hotel to get some rest and get ready for the final reception of our trip.

Dinner Reception hosted by Sabah Tourism Board was our last official reception and by this time we were feeling a bit exhausted too. We went to our beds early as tomorrow we were to head back to our countries.

On the concluding note, I would like to acknowledge that all the arrangements of this excellent and adventurous Mega Fam Trip were arranged by mega fam & industry relations unit of Corporate communication division at Tourism Malaysia and we can’t thank them enough for such splendid hospitality that we extended to us during our stay in Malaysia. Our tour guides Mr. Basil Lung and Ms. Catherine Tan also made sure that we didn’t miss any of the scheduled adventures and joy-rides.

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