Joniston pushing for rural tourism programme to empower villagers

BRANDON JOHN


KOTA KINABALU: Kiulu assemblyman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai has suggested the introduction of a Rural Mini Tourism Programme to hasten efforts to eradicate poverty and economically empower the rural population.

The Sabah Tourism Board (STB) chairman cited that a study by his board's Product and Rural Tourism Development Unit done at various rural villages throughout the state, revealed their vast tourism potential.

Making the suggestion when debating the government policy speech at the state assembly sitting here, he said STB's visits had revealed the eagerness amongst rural communities to participate in tourism initiatives.

"We should leverage on the growing awareness and interest among rural folks in tourism to push the industry as an alternative source of income and economic empowerment for them," he asserted.

According to Joniston, the rustic charm, and clean and fresh air of rural areas make them attractive to foreign visitors from developed countries like Japan and Korea, who are able to savour the unspoilt environment – an activity known as 'forest bathing' or 'lung washing'.

The proposed Rural Mini Tourism Programme would not only take advantage of this fact, but also help create awareness among the rural folks to keep their villages clean and protect the environment, which is critical in attracting visitors, he added.

He said the programme could be conducted similar to the Mesej programmes under the auspices of the state Rural Development Ministry.

"While Mesej's focus is agriculture and land development, the proposed Rural Mini Tourism Programme could focus on eco-tourism, culture tourism, heritage tourism, traditional food and drinks tourism and adventure tourism," he elaborated.