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INTRODUCTION

Mount Kinabalu is an important landmark of Sabah and important icon to Sabah's tourism industry. Throughout written history, Mount Kinabalu is taken as a beacon and as a site of wondrous biological diversity that needs preserving. Of course, the mount is also taken as a culturally significant plan to the indigenous communities of Sabah as well as a place to test one's determination and endurance. As a result, Mount Kinabalu has a few narratives, which have developed over the years. Sabah’s tourism players are aware about these narratives and have created tourism products and services around those narratives. However, those narratives have yet to be documented and studied scientifically. The lack of documentation and studies of those narratives could be limiting the development of newer products and services, which in turn would have an impact on the Sabah’s overall tourism industry.

Tourism industry worldwide is a cyclic affair; it has its ups and it has its downs. With Sabah's assured tourist arrivals annual increase, the cyclic ups and downs are noted in specific sub-sectors of the industry. One example of the ups and downs is found in the expansion of the Asia market segment. In 2013, some 200,000 Chinese tourists visited Sabah. The Chinese tourists - South Korean tourists’ ratio was 3:1. By 2017, almost 400,000 Chinese tourists visited Sabah and the Chinese tourists - South Korean tourists ratio changed to 2:1. These figures are showing that the South Korean tourists’ market is expanding upwards, while the Chinese tourists’ market is expanding slightly lower rate. While there are numerous factors to the change such as new fight routes and more business networking, the understanding about Sabah's icon influencing the tourist arrivals cannot be denied.

Tourists are drawn to a certain place for many reasons. One reason is that the narrative surrounding an icon is important to those tourists. A narrative or story is an account of a series of related events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. Narrative is found in all forms of human creativity, art, and entertainment, including speech, literature, theatre, music and song, comics, journalism, film, television and video, video games, radio, game-play, unstructured recreation, and performance in general, as well as some painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and other visual arts, as long as a sequence of events is presented. ‘The “right” holiday has considerable symbolic value and for many people the choice of holiday-taking is a reflection of conspicuous consumption through which they can reaffirm self-image and social status’ (Ye and Tussyadiah, 2010). By understanding the narratives, targeted promotions can be made.

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Meditization of Rafflesia

Background

Locally known as Bunga Rogon, the Rafflesia is popular among conservationists, naturalists and travellers because of its rarity. Because of this rarity, in the betterment of socio-economic position, local communities could utilise it as a tourism attraction.

The Sabah Parks Board of Trustees (Sabah Parks) established the Rafflesia Conservation Initiative Scheme (RCIS) with the primary aim of increasing local communities' involvement in the conservation through Rafflesia stewardship activities. Under this scheme, Sabah Parks transferred its biological and ecological knowledge of the Rafflesia plant and its stewardship to selected Dusun communities. Of course, since tourism knowledge and skills were not provided under RCIS, Sabah Parks also encouraged these communities to forge alliances with tourism operators; Sabah Parks expected tourism business agencies to sell tourism packages where the scheme is being implemented, and the participating communities could earn a portion of the tourists’ receipts. However, many tourism operators were not aware of RCIS’s objectives, and did not engage the communities accordingly. Tourism receipts that the participating communities received were not continuous or economically sufficient as the participating Dusun communities lack appropriate tourism knowledge and skills. Many public agencies shouldered the task of building up the tourism capacity of local communities. Among these agencies included the Sabah Tourism Board, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and the Institute for Rural Advancement (INFRA) under the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development. However, these organizations readily act in accordance to the tourism industry needs; the organizations could not readily act on the needs of RCIS’ participants, unless the participants are registered as tourism entities. As a result, major problems plagued the participating Dusun communities from benefitting tourism. The problems are a) Rafflesia is a recognized attraction, and not the RCIS or the community that participates the related scheme and b) the involved Dusun communities have limited tourism opportunities options; they could only act as guides, porters, and component suppliers namely attraction suppliers. For a tourism package to focus on the attraction of Rafflesia and it’s the activity of conserving it, its bulk message should relate to the local communities, the activities of conserving Rafflesia, and the connection between the two mentioned.

Objectives

A project was established to provide the much needed tourism communication mediums to the local communities, which will enable their tourism enterprising abilities. The objectives of this project are a) to create site-specific tourism communication mediums at all Rafflesia conservation centers under the Rafflesia Conservation Initiative Scheme, and b) to develop and equip local tourism managers at all Rafflesia conservation centers under the Rafflesia Conservation Initiative Scheme.This project received public funding from the Ministry of Higher Education through Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

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