BUKIT MERTAJAM, May 24 (Bernama) -- Who would have thought a 'green' village well isolated and far from the madding crowd, could be a hit with tourists.
Yet the quiet and calm surroundings of Kampung Sungai Semilang, about eight kilometres from Juru, coupled with the laid back lifestyle of its residents appear to draw both foreign and local visitors alike. Not less appealing is the array of seafood that the villagers have to offer to visitors.
Above it all, Kampung Sungai Semilang's environment-friendly status is unquestionable, having proven, by clinching the 'Cleanest Village Award' in Seberang Perai district, that it walked the talk in conservation.
Kampung Sungai Semilang's economic enlightenment began in 2006, when the village was selected as a homestay destination in Penang. Initially, 10 village homes were opened to visitors to let them have an insight of rural life in the northern state of Malaysia.
The federal government also built the necessary infrastructure to enhance the socioeconomic status of the residents; now after almost 10 years in operation, the village's homestay programme continues to rake in the money.
Sungai Semilang homestay coordinator Shamsuddin Ahmad, 64, said the programme had greatly helped the villagers in terms of improving their livelihood.
"The homestay programme is good because it not only generates income for the residents, it is also an opportunity for the locals to express their friendly, engaging nature," he told Bernama. He believes the ambiance and villagers' hospitality are exactly the niche that get visitors from countries such as Japan, South Korea, Germany, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, coming.
Even students of higher learning institutions are drawn to the village which boasts of dense forest and hills that are very conducive for a motivational camp, according to Shamsuddin.
He said the homestay rate per night is between RM60 and RM70, with a Malay tradition and culture familiarisation package thrown in, besides the opportunity to wear traditional attire for the enviable snapshot and a mock wedding ceremony to remember. "To value-add the tourism product, local handicrafts and snacks are also offered for sale," he said.
Meanwhile, Penang Regional Development Authority senior assistant manager (Economic Development), Mohd Salleh Hussain said the federal government had allocated RM500,000 to boost the homestay industry in the state. He said the funds were channeled through the Penang Bumiputera Development Council.
"There are 11 homestay destinations in Penang and it is the first time that the star rating was introduced in the programme, for cleanliness, safety, and service quality," he said.
He said this after a ceremony to present bicycles and support equipment to Sungai Semilang homestay operators, which was witnessed by Sungai Dua assemblyman Muhamad Yusoff Mohd Noor. Mohd Salleh said 10 operators received air conditioners, 20 bicycles and support equipment worth RM37,724.50.