Heralding a new CAN era

The familiarisation trip to Batang Ai was organised by Aiman Planet Borneo Group of Companies, led by its director Gracie Geikie (front row, third right). Also seen are group general manager Mona Abdul Manap (back row, left); database and online management executive Alcila Abby Afflin (back row, second right); Aiman Planet Borneo Group of Companies chairman Samat Othman (front row, second left); Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat general manager Keith Pointer (front row, left) and Jason Brooke (front row, third left) with Sarawak Tourism Federation officials.

The familiarisation trip to Batang Ai was organised by Aiman Planet Borneo Group of Companies, led by its director Gracie Geikie (front row, third right). Also seen are group general manager Mona Abdul Manap (back row, left); database and online management executive Alcila Abby Afflin (back row, second right); Aiman Planet Borneo Group of Companies chairman Samat Othman (front row, second left); Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat general manager Keith Pointer (front row, left) and Jason Brooke (front row, third left) with Sarawak Tourism Federation officials.

THE Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort may have changed hands but it promises a new era of Culture, Adventure and Nature tourism in Sarawak.

The 20-year-old property, previously owned by Tradewind Hotels and Resorts and managed by Hilton International, is now under Planet Borneo Lodge Management Sdn Bhd and has been renamed as Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat.

According to Aiman Planet Borneo Group of Companies director Gracie Geikie, key tourism operators in Malaysia have been promoting Batang Ai for the past 20 years and it comes as no surprise even before Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat was opened, the destination was already selling, especially due to the richness of its cultures.

“Batang Ai offers cultural products that are as much as ethnic and as authentic. I believe this was the primary reason we chose to continue this Resort and make it better. The previous management did an excellent job in promoting the place and we want to continue the legacy,” Gracie said, adding that Batang Ai and Mulu are the two strong pillars of the tourism portfolio in Sarawak.

Gracie, who has over 40 years experience in the tourism industry, is confident “my experience can convince them we are able to continue this, especially with my stint as resident manager of Royal Mulu Resort with similar challenges, in terms of distance and accessibility.”

“It takes a lot of work bringing this Resort to a higher level but the beauty of this product and its location is still there. It just needs a good clean-up with huge efforts on repositioning and rebranding. Besides, Batang Ai, itself, is a tourism destination,” said Gracie who is also operations director of Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat.

“Modern technologies and media have given tremendous help in promoting the place,” she acknowledged.

First big venture

Aiman Agro Park Sdn Bhd, principal owner of Planet Borneo Group of Companies since 2013, is a local registered entity, set up by Samat Othman with its core and initial business still in the construction and development industry.

It has just entered the hospitality industry — with Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat as its first big venture.

The Resort staff have been retained for their experience and expertise, and according to Gracie, since the change of management on Jan 1 this year, a slew of new programmes have been introduced to make this holiday destination an activity-centric resort.

“Since Jan 1, we have been putting in a lot of furnishing and doing a major cleaning. The renovations are still on-going. We have also reassigned some departmental schedules and duties, putting extra efforts into setting up a team of marketing professionals.

“This is not an overnight success. We are working on our website and other foundational materials as well with continuous efforts to promote the Resort,” she stressed.

Among the new activities are frogging, bird-watching and excursions to places beyond Batang Ai, including Fort Alice in Sri Aman. New items will be added to the present menu.

The Resort will also feature new products, including a photo gallery on conservation of Orang Utan in the region.

Apart from being a high potential tourism destination, Batang Ai is also the last frontier for the primates, and literally, the only region left where people can spot the great apes in their natural habitat.

The Resort will be collaborating with the Wildlife Conservation Society on the conservation project.

The management team is also planning to bring in souvenir items from the nearby longhouses and retail them at the Resort.

Apart from promoting the place, this will help generate side incomes for the villagers through sales of their handicrafts.

Ideal for corporate market

One big plus for the Resort is its suitability for the corporate market with outbound training and team-building facilities, including function rooms.

“We will be putting up our conference packages by April — so by then, we should be able to accept meetings, brainstorming sessions and strategic planning seminars as well as other types of activities which we hope to incorporate better than the city hotels,” Gracie enthused.

She revealed they were also working on creating ‘new zest’ to make the Resort livelier.

“The first thing is to do the ‘farm to table’ project. For this, I will find the staff to join a cooperative we will set up soon and give them a plot of land each for planting.

“They will take care of the plot and the Resort will buy what they have planted.

“This will mean an additional income for them. We are actually sitting on about 300 acres — so there is plentiful land to develop.”

According to her, another big project is allocating certain percentage of the Resort’s room inventory for education.

“We want to develop this Resort as a ready-made campus. For this, we will have to tie in with reputable colleges or universities and bring in academic programmes, including diploma in hospitality management.

“At the same time, we will do short skills certification programmes for benefit of the communities in Batang Ai, Lubok Antu, Engkilili and Sri Aman. Considering there are many youths in these areas who cannot afford to study and live in Kuching, we are going to make this possible by providing better education opportunities for them,” she said.

The two big projects — farm to table and ready-made campus — are slated for 2017.

On the Resort’s vision, she said it is to position and brand Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat as an international class property.

“We hope to attract more international travellers, cater to local corporate associations as well as the youths,” she added.

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