*An interview with Dawson Lee from Backyard Tour*
What is Backyard Tour all about and also your story of how you started it?
Backyard Tour is all about providing travellers to Kuching an unforgettable experience they share with the locals in exploring their culture and their beautiful assets of nature, while giving back to the local communities. We seek to provide employment opportunities and inspiration for rural folks there through community-based tourism. On the travellers side also we want to introduce to them specially designed packages that’ll make them to become more than just tourists by involving themselves in the lives of the people during the trip.
We started Backyard Tour initially as a non-profit social project that aims to train rural youths around Kuching, Sarawak to become local guides in the villages by helping them to make use of the natural attractions in their villages. We then realized that in order to help the people there we needed to first be self-sustainable, so we enrolled ourselves in an accelerator programme by MaGiC to learn about social-entrepreneurship. Since then we have started operations as a company and we have pivoted our business plan to include all the community members as compared to just focusing on the young people.
What is the hardest thing about working with the remote villages and villagers?
The hardest thing when it comes to working with the rural communities is definitely a clash of mind sets. The rural communities, with all due respect, are not that poor to begin with. They are mostly self-sustainable and can survive even though if we don’t go in and help them. However, we wanted them to try something new and different, instead of sticking with the existing occupations in the village. The villagers although are generally accepting of the idea, they have yet to get used to the idea of having tourists on a frequent basis in the village, not to mention that our guides are not proactive enough in getting the kind of information about their own village that will interest the tourists. Getting the villagers in the same page as us, to see what we see, to be willing to be change their attitude towards tourism, has been the greatest challenge for us so far.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change in regards to tourism in Malaysia?
If I do have that, I’ll make Malaysian tourism to be involve local communities more in its operations. We have seen how tourism in generally work where it benefits privately owned travel agencies more than it benefits the local communities who have been living in the land for so many generations. We want to see a day where the tourism industry in Malaysia can actually give more equity to the local people and help lift them out of poverty; which itself can come in many forms.
Can you give your top 3 tips as to how people can travel more responsibly?
- Always prioritize on finding responsible tour operators who give fair treatment to the locals and not exploiting them. You should try to support tour activities that aim to raise awareness on environmental issues.
- Make an effort to know the people more, you wouldn’t know the next local you speak to needs you to give them inspiration and motivation to improve their lives.
- When you travel into nature, be sure to enjoy what you see, fall in love with it, and not destroy it with your rubbish.
Where is your favourite destination in Sarawak?
I haven’t even begun to explore even the whole of Kuching yet, but I can tell you that my favourite destination so far has to be Kiding village. It was such a thrill to hike up for two hours up the village
and another two hours to reach the waterfall. It was tiring but the view was magnificent and the waterfall so majestic. Best thing is, the people there are so hospitable.