SEMPORNA: As the ‘End in Sipadan’ dive trail campaign finally came to an end, the question on everyone’s mind was “How did it all come about?”
What makes ‘End in Sipadan’ campaign so unique is that it will attract tourists to come to Sabah not only to dive in Sipadan but also to explore the many dive sites in the state.
According to Sabah Backpackers Association president Richie Lee, the ‘End in Sipadan’ idea materialized after four years of brainstorming and planning.
“The idea first came about when I was elected as president of the Sabah Backpackers Association (SBA).
“We wanted to create something different and to promote and put Sabah on the world map as one of the great dive sites our state can offer.
“Octavius (Mari Mari Sepanggar Island Lodge owner Dares Saham Asaad) came out with an idea of creating dive trails to connect several dive sites in Sabah.
“After many hours of hard work, brainstorming, planning and collaborating with Sabah’s Tourism and Culture Ministry (Motac), we finally launched ‘End in Sipadan’ in April at Mari Mari Sepanggar and ending its dive trail in Sipadan Island in Semporna.
“So I dare say that the ‘End in Sipadan’ is actually the brainchild, or how I like to put it, the “Octavius Blue Print” because without his knowledge and years in this industry, ‘End in Sipadan’ would never materialize,” said Lee during a three-day stay at ND Diver Lodge in Semporna.
The ‘End in Sipadan’ campaign started its dive trail in Sepanggar and making its way up to Mantanani Island, then to Kudat and back down along the east coast to Lahad Datu and finally ending in Sipadan.
Lee added that to ensure the backpackers market continued to grow, SBA had to connect all its members to make the campaign a success.
“In tourism, the longer our tourists stay the more they will spend and the more they will stay and spend, the more they will learn about our country.
“So to provide our backpackers, who may also be divers, an experience of a lifetime, we created this dive trail which connects one city or location to another city or location around Sabah,” he said.
Lee, however, said that most tourists would only learn about Sabah because of Sipadan Island, considered to be the best dive site in Malaysia and top 10 dive sites in the world.
“Yes, everyone knows that Sipadan is one of the best dive sites in Malaysia and they will usually come to Semporna via Tawau, and end up diving only in Sipadan, but there are more dive sites our country has to offer.
“As I said many times, Sabah is blessed with three seas surrounding us, we have the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea, and we have so many beautiful dive sites that are still unexplored.
“So by connecting SBA members all over Sabah and providing a dive trail, tourists will stay longer and will have a memorable experience, which we hope they will bring their experience and share it with their friends and family and maybe even blog and write a good review about Sabah,” he said.
So how did SBA come out with a suitable location for their dive trail?
Lee said that each location or each city must have something interesting to offer beside diving activities.
“We do not want our tourists to just come here, have a couple of dives and go back home.
“We want them to experience our culture, our people and our city. There are many activities they can join in and participate and we hope, will bring memorable experience to them.
“When we first launched our programme in April in Sepanggar, we started with the artificial reef which carries the ‘conservative’ theme of coral planting.
“Octavius once again came out with this idea of artificial reef planting at his resort in Mari Mari Sepanggar as part of their theme and it was adapted by ND Divers in Semporna which has since made it part of their product to offer to their customers,” said Lee.
For Mari Mari Backpackers Lodge Mantanani Island in Kota Belud, their theme offers marine conservation, while Kudat Blue Fin Diver, founded by Camuel Tsen, took a different direction by engaging local home stays on a joint venture while offering local kids a chance to be dive masters.
Pirate Divers founder, Glen Hapirullah, in Lahad Datu meanwhile offers 44 breathtaking dive sites with beautiful reefs and shipwreck.