Saturday, August 15

National park needs facelift

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DIRECTIONS: Pahon (right) looking at the area map of Bako National Park, while Siali provides explanation. — Photo by Antonia Chiam

KUCHING: Facilities that need upgrading are signage, hostels and trails. Among the challenges faced by the management include aging accommodation facilities that had undergone several renovations but have design and material weaknesses, and there are also problems with termites and rats.- Siali Aban, Bako National Park manager

An estimated RM1.5 million is needed for the upgrading of existing facilities in the state’s oldest national park.

Bako National Park is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the state, with an average of 35,000 visitors per year.

Last year alone, visitors numbered at 38,810.

“Facilities that need upgrading are signage, hostels and trails. Among the challenges faced by the management include aging accommodation facilities that had undergone several renovations but have design and material weaknesses, and there are also problems with termites and rats,” said park manager Siali Aban.

Over 30 tourism players, including members of Sarawak Tourism Federation and travel agents, participated in a product visit and briefing organised by Tourism and Heritage Ministry led by permanent secretary Datu Ik Pahon Joyik yesterday.

Based on current trends, the number of visitors to Bako National Park is increasing every year, with a high number of repeat visitors, which is why the upgrading is necessary.

According to Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) statistics, the annual number of visitors to the national park consists of 25 per cent locals and 75 per cent foreigners, with Europeans being the majority. It is found that expectations among the foreigners are higher when it comes to service level in terms of maintenance, guide, food and safety.

“Guests face higher charges through tour agencies so they expect a certain level of services and they tend to compare them with those of other parks they have visited,” said Siali.

Another challenge faced by the park management is the lack of human resources and it is operating with a skeletal number of staff, which naturally affects the service quality.

“Our workforce is on a ratio of one worker to 2,000 customers annually. We have three park rangers, so in terms of enforcement and protection of the park, we work on a ratio of 1 ranger to 909 hectares.

“In terms of maintenance, we only have two cleaners for 132 beds at 11 buildings during peak time and also other facilities such as compounds, boardwalks, shelters and others,” said Siali in his briefing.

The management outsources park guides to freelance and tour agencies, boat service to Kampung Bako Passenger Boat Association and food and beverage to the local community at Bako.

“To enhance park guide service, we provide skills enhancement programme to our licensed park guides free of charge,” said SFC Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation general manager Wilfred Landong.

According to him, SFC intends to provide park visitors with licensed park guides, as it will ease the work of the park rangers here as well as provide income opportunity to the licensed guides.

“However, many visitors, especially repeat visitors, do not want guides. This is a problem with the locals, as they are not willing to pay the guides, what they only want is simple sightseeing (makan angin) at Bako. This makes it difficult in monitoring visitors’ safety when we do not know their whereabouts with our lean staffing,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Pahon said this visit and briefing was the third of its kind this year, as they had arranged visits to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and Matang Wildlife Centre recently.

“This visit is for the tourism players to exchange views and ideas in an informal setting and first-hand feel of the place. It breaks down barriers and allows for better feedback.

“There is so much that we can do for Bako, especially with the government promoting eco-tourism as a major tourism activity,” he said.

Bako, with its rugged rocky coastline and varied vegetations, is home to many unique floras that include 600 species of flowering plants, 49 species of orchids, 49 species of Dipterocarps and other diverse plant species.

Its diverse fauna include proboscis monkeys, silver leaf monkeys, slow Loris, wild pigs, pit vipers and more.

The national park is accessible only by a 20-minute boat ride from Kampung Bako at the Muara Tebas peninsula, some 40km from Kuching.

Also present at the briefing were SFC community development and conservation manager Victor Luna and Sarawak Tourism Board Marketing director Benedict Jimbau.