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ECU Tourism students take the trip of a lifetime

Monday, 23 May 2011


Seventeen ECU Tourism students recently enjoyed the trip of a lifetime through the diverse landscape and natural wonders of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. Fifteen undergraduate and two postgraduate students embarked on the nine-day Borneo Study Tour last month, as part of their studies in Tourism.

Students had an action-packed itinerary over the nine days, with activities designed to expose them to tourism in practice. The activities included:

  • Walking tour of Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu
  • Viewing traditional local dancing
  • Wildlife watching in the rainforest
  • River cruises
  • Nature walks
  • Tree planting
  • ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Sandakan War Memorial

The students also visited many tourist attractions, such as:

  • Kundasang War Memorial
  • Mt Kinabalu National Park
  • Sabah Tea Plantation factory
  • Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre
  • Agnes Keith Museum

As well as being a practical learning experience for students, the trip created a positive impact on the local community, with students participating in volunteer work while there. On their first day, the students visited Emmanuel House in Kudat, a home and school for disadvantaged teenage girls. They donated books to the students there.

“Visiting Emmanuel House was one of the most moving parts of the trip. It's hard not to put your life into perspective when you see how happy those girls are. They have very few possessions, live away from their family and live in a crowded house, but they are so bright and happy, and so gracious. It was an amazing experience,” said student Kate Fuller, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

The students also donated $2000 worth of piping to a well project in the village Terongkongkan Darat in Kudat, and helped connect the water pipes so the local people could have easy access to clean drinking water. In addition, the students completed conservation work while staying in the Sukau Rainforest Lodge, planting trees nearby in the rainforest.

The Sukau Rainforest Lodge is an internationally-acclaimed ‘eco-lodge’, secluded in the heart of the exotic Sukau Rainforest and only accessible by boat. It is owned and managed by ECU Adjunct Lecturer Mr Albert Teo, who has 34 years of experience in the tourism industry. As well as hosting the students at the Lodge, Mr Teo took the time out to share his perspectives on tourism in the Sabah region and ‘ecotourism’ during a workshop.

Ecotourism can be described as responsible travel to natural areas that has a minimal impact on the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Mr Teo’s special interest in this growing area of tourism was the basis for the Lodge’s development. During their stay, students gained a practical understanding of socially responsible travel through the many self-sufficient features of the Lodge, and the conservation activities they were able to participate in.

“We all need to learn about sustainability and about implementing it to help save the world, and I have been so lucky in gaining first-hand knowledge,” Kate said.

Besides being an important centre in the development of ecotourism, Sabah is significant in Australia’s war history. Students visited the Sandakan War Memorial on ANZAC Day, which occupies land that was previously a prisoner of war camp for Australian and British soldiers. It now commemorates the lives of those lost in war, in particular those lost in the ‘Sandakan Death March’ of 1944. That year, 2,000 Australian and British prisoners of war were marched westward by Japanese soldiers in an effort to evade Allied Forces who were advancing on Borneo. Most of the prisoners died or were killed along the way, and with only six Australians surviving, the Death March remains the single greatest atrocity committed against Australians in war. The Tourism students paid their respects at the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, with four students laying wreaths at the site, including Kate Fuller.

“The tour was a big eye opener for me in terms of heritage and Australian history. There are so many untold stories about the war and about the heroes that died defending our country,” she said.

Students also engaged with Australian Government officials as part of their tour, participating in a workshop with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, entitled ‘Sandakan Memorial Park experiences and tourism opportunities’. The workshop assisted the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in identifying how to improve the tourist experience for young people in the Memorial Park and other Australian war sites around the world. Shortly after the workshop, the students returned to Perth.

Organised by Foundation Professor of Tourism Professor Ross Dowling OAM, and Tourism and Hospitality Program Co-ordinator Dr Dale Sanders, the students’ tour was based on a previous tour to the area in 2006.

“The trip is a high-quality, international learning experience, that exposes students to tourism on the ground. Students encountered intriguing and diverse natural environments and unique local cultures first-hand, and saw ecotourism, cultural tourism, wildlife tourism, military tourism and heritage tourism in practice. They gained a fresh perspective on tourism as a whole,” he said.

It seems some students came away from the trip with even more than practical understanding and a fresh perspective. Master of Business Administration student Amelia Gath found that it was life-changing.

“This experience has not only extended my intellectual understanding and knowledge, but more importantly it promoted my emotional and spiritual growth. To immerse in another world, one of people, culture and environment, and embrace it whole-heartedly is an experience that will live with me forever.”

More information

For more information about the Borneo Study Tour, contact Professor Ross Dowling.

Foundation Professor of Tourism
Professor Ross Dowling OAM
Phone: (61 8) 6304 5891


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