‘Heritage stays’ are getting common in the rural areas of Malaysia as an experiential accommodation for travellers seeking a more wholesome experience. Often comprising of a traditional-style wooden house with its distinct architecture, it also offers packages for guests to take advantage of to be fully immersed in the kampung lifestyle as well as the local history and natural beauty of the area.
For operators with heritage stays as a business model, it is often quite popular amongst international guests who are keen to experience Malaysia’s local or rural life. Not only that, even Malaysians who were born and raised in urban areas now also make an effort to book places that are unique and different than the ones in the city.
One of the better ones, Rumah Tiang 16 builds up from this model by promoting itself as a special heritage stay in the lush valley of Lenggong, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Perak. The house name itself was derived from the 16 main pillars constructed to raise this lovely Perak-style traditional structure. This heritage stay residence is managed by the owner himself, Nasir ‘Nash’ Jalaludin, who has previously worked in the hotel industry. His stints in both local and international hotels or resorts have given him an excellent understanding of industry best practices, which his guests benefit from.
He decided to refurbish his family home in Lenggong and has opened it into a heritage experience for travellers who are keen on living the idyllic life, while also exploring what Lenggong town has to offer. As a result, the overall décor of his house is reminiscent of all the quaint village houses, including objects and trinkets that can be found all across olden Malaysia, to trigger the sense of nostalgia.
Not only that, Rumah Tiang 16 is also the one and only boutique accommodation in Lenggong which has been nominated by several international and influential medias such as Rough Guides and Lonely Planet’s travel writer, Marco Ferrarese, during his visit and stay at Rumah Tiang 16. This has made the accommodation a particularly attractive spot for treavellers from all around the world.
The main package Nash offers is a 3-Day 2-Night Heritage Stay in Lenggong including an itinerary full of interesting local activities for guests to maximise their stay. As the Lenggong Valley offers ample activities to do and indulge involving nature, history and even archaeology, Nash would often collaborate with friends and locals to aid him in producing and implementing personalised itineraries around town for his guests. As of 2020 (pre-pandemic) Rumah Tiang 16 has hosted satisfied guests from 25 different nationalities.
Nash’s overall goal is to build up the reputation of the historic Lenggong Valley with its local communities by also reviving abandoned traditional houses, managed by him as a way of expanding his business. Thereby breathing life into Perak’s traditional houses while also helping out the community.
Heritage stays are certainly unique as travellers are more likely to communicate with locals as opposed to lounging in a modern hotel. However, the pandemic that swept the country has put all tourism operators in the hotel-accommodation industry on an indefinite hold.
Pandemic Affects the Lodging, and Almost Everything
The indefinite wait for all sectors in the industry has resulted in a strain of earning income, whereas some are able to get by through picking up side jobs, most are unable to do so. The addition of the travelling ban for both locals and international travellers has exacerbated this problem even more for all operators and the complementary activities that work with them.
The lack of guests and even ceasing of operations for tourists including those who are out of state has certainly impacted all lodgings that relied on these travellers. As many are now shutting down, the question persists, how can a humble lodging in the rural town of Lenggong, stay relevant during this lockdown period?
Staying Relevant through the Digital Sphere
The restrictions presented for travel lodgings comes with its own challenges. By comparing a local operator and a much larger hotel accommodation, these small family operators often lack the budget to ride out the lockdowns or do their own extensive marketing and promotion.
However, a (nearly) free method which anyone can pick up when it comes to promoting their products is of course through social media. Rumah Tiang 16 took full advantage of this by populating its Facebook page and its Instagram account with activities Nash has done around his lodging, or with news around Lenggong.
This also includes highlighting events and educational tidbits of the kampung life and showing off the delicious food the Resident Cook would whip up as a teaser for those who are thinking of staying at his abode later. Emphasising well on Lenggong’s UNESCO World Heritage status, Nash is proud to extensively promote this factor across all his social media, seeing as he has a close relations with the archaeologists studying the archaeological sites.
A common method Nash has done to make Lenggong visible also includes tagging the location of the town with ‘Lenggong UNESCO World Heritage’ in the appropriate posts that he composes. This has helped pushed his postings up for those who are curious about the Lenggong Valley and UNESCO World Heritage Sites in general.
Not only that, but his social medias would often include an announcement on any talk show invitations the lodging receives. As such, a few popular online talk series he was involved in includes Tourism Productivity Nexus’ Let’s Talk About Lenggong and Ruang Tamu where he was able to highlight and provide more exposure on what both he and his beloved Lenggong offer.
In addition to this, the lodging was also featured as one of the many attractions which can be found in Lenggong including an invitation for a virtual talk show with Tourism Perak. As majority of viewers tune in more when the state’s official tourism body features the wonders of Perak, it has certainly put Rumah Tiang 16 under more spotlights.
Promotion isn’t limited to virtual talk shows either, various media sites are now picking up and reporting on the lodging as an attraction spot, furthering its marketing and visibility on the internet.
Digital Productivity as a Solution
Staying productive through digital means helps push the exposure for Rumah Tiang 16. Nash observed that he was able to gain more ‘likes’ and engagement on his postings through the various Facebook groups he has joined. As these groups are often in concentrated interests under subjects such as ‘Heritage’ or ‘Homestays’, more members of said groups will be aware of what Lenggong and Rumah Tiang 16 have to offer.
However, despite his efforts to promote his heritage stay, Nash admits that during the lockdown he has not received any enquiries regarding his lodging so far. While in-session enquiries are usually visible during the Questions & Answers of the talk shows he has attended, external enquiries which usually pour in after some form of promotion are few. In addition to this, his follower numbers across social media also did not see any significant increase despite the talk shows he has participated in. In a way this is not too surprising since the whole nation has been in on-and-off lockdowns, making it difficult for anyone to plan anything.
This issue further highlights the struggles of tourism operators and the limited marketing they are able to do through social media. Also, as a heritage stay leans more towards accompanying physical experiences, it is hard for a common viewer to really imagine what it would be like, even on image-heavy social media.
Towards alleviating this, Nash has even participated in the Malaysia Virtual Experience (MyVXp) programme where he has hosted a live one-hour online visit around both his Rumah Tiang 16 premises and some key Lenggong archaeological sites near his place. This pay-per-live-tour that is both entertaining and educational is still available on-request, and helps as a small source of income, besides promotion.
Recently, Rumah Tiang 16 has also been selected as a ‘virtual checkpoint’ for King of Lenggong’s Virtual Run series. This proves to be a helpful feat on furthering increasing Rumah Tiang 16’s visibility not only for leisure travellers but also avid runners.
Indeed, Nash has stated that he will still stay positive throughout the restrictions and is always looking out for the right time to take the next step of action especially when the travelling ban is lifted. The continued exposure of the Lenggong Valley and the effort being done by various tourism bodies and destination experts will keep the town in the tourism radar, and with it his Rumah Tiang 16 as well.
Watch the Let’s Talk About Lenggong segment with Nash Jalaludin by clicking on this link!