Malaysia: Have a holiday in an oil palm plantation

Hazlin Hassan Straits Times 20 Feb 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's largest oil palm plantation manager is hoping to harvest more profit from its vast tracts of land - by luring tourists to agro-based resorts sitting amid its plantations.

And it is not just quiet getaways tucked away in the middle of millions of oil palm trees: Felda's resorts offer access to a host of natural attractions, from caves and hot springs to beaches and islands.

One hot spring resort in Perak, located right in the middle of a plantation and durian orchard, boasts chalets with private hot spring pools and a spa, and views of the nearby Titiwangsa mountain range.

Another in Pahang allows visitors to explore 150 million-year-old caves at the nearby Kota Gelanggi.

Other resorts offer opportunities - especially for student groups - to try out activities such as rafting, canoeing and jungle trekking while on holiday.

And Felda is now targeting Singaporean tourists, offering specific promotions for the Singapore market, such as package discounts and room promotions.

Room rates are around RM200 to RM250 (S$80 to S$100) per night. The promotions were advertised in Singapore newspapers recently.

'Going by the numbers, we consider Singapore one of our prime markets,' said Mr Andrew Francis, the chief executive officer of Felda Travel, a subsidiary of Felda Holdings.

'The positive response and rave reviews received from our Singaporean visitors are perhaps also driven by the various side activities which give them a 'back to nature' experience.'

The outreach to Singaporeans is the latest effort by Felda to carve a bigger name for itself in the tourism industry.

Felda is short for the Federal Land Development Authority, which was set up by the Malaysian government in the 1950s to give poor rural folk land to grow cash crops such as oil palm and rubber.

It is now in charge of some 344,000ha of land, and is one of the world's largest managers of oil palm plantations, earning revenues of more than RM2 billion a year.

To maximise the use of its land, Felda entered the tourism industry in 1991, building agro-resorts to draw city dwellers looking for a getaway in the country. Last year, Felda Travel earned RM25 million in revenue.

Singaporeans currently make up about 70 per cent of the 10,000 or so foreigners who visit its resorts every year. The resorts have also seen tourists from Holland, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Middle East, Australia and China.

'Singapore is a strong market for us, especially students,' Mr Francis told The Straits Times. 'On average, about 3,000 students come to our resorts yearly, particularly to the Residences in Pahang, Perak and in Johor.'

Visitors who have stayed at Felda's resorts say they are well-run, clean and peaceful. Its hot spring resort in Sungai Klah, Perak, has been recognised as one of Malaysia's top five nature resorts, according to Felda. Its resort in Tekam, Pahang, is known for its nearby caves, while two others, in Johor and Sabah, are beach resorts. A fifth, also in Perak, targets corporate groups seeking to hold seminars and team-building sessions, while a sixth is a business hotel in Terengganu's state capital.

Said Mr Francis: 'We promote our resorts on the tagline 'Back to nature' which fits every segment of the market and is ideal for families.'