Sabah tour firm’s Plan B to stay afloat works out


Staying alive: Employees of the tour company standing in front of their mini mart in Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: When one visits a new mini mart at Pavilion Bundusan in Penampang, the friendly staff inside takes courtesy to the next level.

This is because the staff are all former tourism players who are used to providing services to customers, but had to take up a new job scope after Covid-19 hit the world.

The former Borneo Trails Tours and Travels staff had been out of job since the various movement control orders were implemented.

Mini mart manager Bernadette Jiliu, who used to deal with meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) for the company, said their change was challenging but a must for economic survival.

When the pandemic hit, the tour company owner as well as the staff had high hopes that things would return to normal within a few months, the latest being the year end of 2020.

“We later realised that the pandemic was going to last longer than thought. Therefore, a second plan was needed to keep the business afloat and to retain workers, ” she said.

After meetings and discussions, they decided to open a grocery store named Desa Greens Mini Mart.

They received a lot of help retraining and reskilling workers from friends in various industries such as production, packaging and food selection, among others.

The mini mart not only let workers keep their job, but also helps local farmers and food producers market their goods.

“We source from local farmers and local food producers, we buy from them and in turn, help them generate income during these trying times, ” Jiliu said.

The products are sourced from Kundasang, Kota Marudu, Tenom, Tambunan and nearby farms.

Vans used to carry tourists have now been converted to transport vegetables, fruits and other food products.

The mini mart had a soft opening on Jan 10 and their grand opening on March 14.

Asked if the tour company would be reactivated when international borders reopen, Jiliu said that was definitely part of the plan.

“Actually now, with domestic tourism slowly opening up again, we have sent some of our staff back to the tour office to manage the business, ” she said.

When the economic and overall situation improves, they will hire more people to man the mini mart.

The existing staff will also be given an option to stay at the mini mart or return to tourism.

“We hope to be part of the earlier groups of people getting vaccinated for Covid-19 because like it or not, tourism contributes a huge chunk of the economic pie in Sabah, and Malaysia as a whole, ” Jiliu said.

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