The Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) is opening up over seven hectares for investors to develop and operate eco-tourism facilities in Labi, located in Belait’s rural south.
MPRT Permanent Secretary Pg Hj Kamalrudzaman Pg Hj Mohd Ishak said they were seeking proposals to invest, develop and operate two projects: privatising Labi’s multipurpose community hall to host meetings and tourism events and renovating the unused Rampayoh Primary School into a “one-stop” visitor centre that would provide accommodation, retail and recreational activities.
Both projects are targeted to be operational by 2020/2021 and are central to MPRT’s wider push to position Labi as Brunei’s second eco-tourism destination to Temburong.
The ministry recently launched Explore Labi which consolidates 16 different sites and tours along Jalan Labi, which stretches 50km inwards from the midway point along the Telisai-Lumut Highway. Labi’s biggest attraction has been the Teraja longhouse and the trek to its surrounding waterfalls, which draws over 4,000 visitors annually.
“The opening of this (one-stop visitor) centre aims to provide visitors with facilities such as registration counter, information centre, briefing and prayer rooms, souvenir and retail shops, F&B outlets, and stalls to sell local produce and handicrafts,” he said.
“In addition, this centre aims to kickstart Labi as a new tourism destination in Brunei for eco and community-based educational learning programmes and systems, which will engage visitors and the local residents on environmental sustainability and educational research.”
The Rempayoh Primary School – abandoned in 2015 due to declining student enrollment – covers an area of five hectares, including eight semi-detached houses with 16 rooms altogether.
Meanwhile Labi’s community hall – donated by Hua Ho’s founder Pehin Lau Ah Kok – is one of the largest in Belait with an accompanying three-bedroom guest house within its 2.1 hectare plot, but it is sparsely used.
MPRT Senior Special Duties Officer Kartini Hj Kabri said the investors were encouraged to develop the hall into a meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) destination, while the one-stop visitor centre is envisioned being a “green campus” for tourists and researchers to learn about Brunei’s biodiversity.
“We currently have four investors who have shown interest; from both projects we are also expecting to create over 30 jobs, providing employment for the surrounding community,” said Kartini.
She added that MPRT is projecting the renovation period to take between six to eight months, making September 2020 the earliest opening date.
Explore Labi is being built around the concept of sustainable, responsible and inclusive tourism. Its attractions also include the Mendaram Longhouse, Brunei’s only commercial coffee farm by Pertanian Tropikal Utama, Wasai (waterfalls) Wong Kadir and wildlife watching.
MPRT said Labi boasts over 300 species of wildlife that are native to Borneo – 81 frog species, more than 10 species of snakes and reptiles, over 150 species of forest birds and mammals including gibbons and the slow loris.
The appointed travel agents for Explore Labi are PJ Majestic Tours & Travel, AZ Back To Nature Travel & Tour, Borneo Guide (Hasa Incentives), Pan Bright Travel Services, Bonasia Holiday Management Services and Freme Travel Services.