Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kivatu Heights - Homestay tourism catches on in Sabah

Kivatu Heights Homestay looks out of place. A wooden alpine house sits atop a 10-storey tall stony hill in tropical Penampang, the rice-bowl of the indigenous Kadazandusuns, about 10 km from Kota Kinabalu city. This is the home of Francis Mobijohn, 45, and his family. When he built it 10 years ago, he didn’t know that he would be earning a useful family income from playing host to tourists on a shoe-string or those seeking adventures off the beaten track.

Mr Mobijohn, a building contractor, has been receiving a steady stream of foreign visitors since he opened his house to them six years ago. “I’ve had about 1,000 of them from all over the world,” he says.

He earns between 500 and 800 ringgit ($152 and $242) a month by giving them food and lodging. “In a good month, I earn about 1,500 ringgit,” he says. The summer of May and June and wintry December are his best months. He charges 65 ringgit for a room and 200 ringgit for an adjoining “chalet” which has a room, a living-room and a kitchen for a day’s stay.

But homestay was an afterthought for Mr Mobijohn and his wife Jane, 42, who wanted a comfortable house with a difference for their children. They have two boys and a girl aged 8, 12 and 14.

Mr Mobijohn says he was fascinated by the Alpine A-shaped wooden houses that he lived in one for a year while studying for his A-levels in Vancouver, Canada, from 1983 to 1984. So he built a similarly simple 2-storey wooden house, on top of a 150-m hill of about 2,000 square metres called Kivatu which means “stone” in his Kadazandusun language.

“I like wood,” he says, “It was about the same price as building a brick house then.”

After his house was built, they extended it with three rooms to accommodate their many friends from abroad, particularly those from America. Mr Mobijohn and his wife graduated from the Oklahoma City University with degrees in business administration and liberal arts respectively. The one he calls a “chalet” is the extended building with a room, living room and kitchen.

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