Monday, October 12, 2009

Island Lifestyle

Guyana Eco Resort.

While reading The Age newspaper online today 11/10/09 I noticed an ad in the lifestyle section for a competition to win a holiday in Borneo. Offered by The Age and Preferred Boutique the details of the prize are a week for two people staying at two resorts, Gayana Eco resort and Bunga Raya Island Resort and Spa. The trip is inclusive of return flights and $2000 spending money.

There was a tiny photo of each resort accompanied by a short description highlighting their best features, overwater villas, views of Mt Kinabalu, marine ecology research centre, virgin jungle, coral reef, hilltop spa etc.

I clicked onto their respective websites which looked attractive with beautiful photographs of the island and interior shots of the villas that looked like 5 star hotel rooms. I looked at the underwater photos of fish that you could see on the diving activities. It looked like paradise, a fantasy world of luxury and relaxation. I decided to do some research into these resorts and the island they inhabit named ‘Palau Gaya’.

After much searching I could not identify which company owns these resorts. The two resorts are both members of ‘Preferred Boutique Hotel Group’ which is a Chicago based global partner to 700 independent hotels. “Preferred Hotels’ offers sales and marketing benefits, group purchasing savings of hotel items (from Coca-cola, Sony, American Express etc) and quality assurance. Preferred Hotels run a program called GIFTTS: (Great Initiatives for Today’s (Tomorrow’s) Society. The GIFTTS program is supposed to recognize philanthropic deeds that benefit the local community performed by member hotels. Both the Gayana and Bunga Raya resorts were not mentioned here.

The internet has helped tourism become one of the worlds largest export services and e-tourism is a fast growing niche market. Many tourists want to stay in a resort that isn’t harming the environment. However I would also like to know that these resorts are contributing to the development of the local economy. Are hotel staff being paid decently or low wages? Are most of a hotels profits being siphoned out of the country?

Lonely Planet Borneo (online 2008) states that the bays on the east end of the Palau Gaya island are inhabited by villages of legal and illegal immigrants who are ignored by the Government. Poverty, pollution and crime is present.

Palau Gaya Immigrant Dwellings. source:Wikipedia

They also report that the Gayana resort “feels strangely abandoned…..considering the few guests who visit.”

A comment in the Kinabalu Blog by Murphy (online 2008) complains about the steep hike in fares to access the island.

In year 2006, I did a jungle trekking on Gaya Island. I only needed to pay the ferry ticket, and a RM3 conservation levy ticket for Sabah Parks, nothing else.Later I heard a company (PKM if I am not mistaken), which has many contracts with government, took over the management of the Gayana Resort.

Ok, last month I wanted to do the same thing again. They forced me to buy a RM50 lunch package otherwise they wouldn’t allow me. If include the RM20 ferry ticket, I have to pay RM70++ just to walk in the jungle! And the Gaya villagers, who contribute garbage to our sea, can roam freely on the island!

It is such a rip off, not only to me, but to the locals as well. I was so angry that I even thought of removing my “promotion” blog for Gayana. Well, how many more I should remove? Many good tourism spots are controlled by private companies who only care about making $. Without doubt, if SSL can make Mount Kinabalu their private mountain, like how PKM makes Gayana their private island, they will not hesitate to do so. Sad huh..

So the lifestyle being advertised for these resorts is a lifestyle that is only available to a select group – wealthy people. Poor and working class local people and travellers are excluded from using the island. Both Resorts don’t appear to be putting any profits toward local philanthropy that benefit people in need. Gayana Eco Resort claim they do active restoration of coral reef and fish species. This marketing reflects a growing trend away from what Celia Lury calls ‘Greed is good’ selfish consumerism of the 1980s towards ‘green politics’ (1996).

However I’d like to see a more holistic approach from e-tourism, shifting the focus from nature to include more actions of social responsibility to humanity at the local level.

Lury, Celia. “Consumer Culture, Identity and Politics.” Consumer Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 1996.