Flenny Wong Cheng, 22, was first introduced to glamping during the first year of her three-year Bachelor of Media programme at the University of Adelaide. She quickly saw glamping as a viable business opportunity in her hometown of Kota Belud, Sabah, where there were no similar offerings.
She pitched her idea to her parents who supported her decision to quit her studies and pursue her dream of setting up a glamping venture in Sabah.
“Besides, they missed me and were glad I was coming home for good,” she recalled. Her parents and siblings also provided her with financial support to kick-start this new venture.
It took months of planning and getting the ground work done before Cabana Retreat opened to the public on February 1. It is located on Rampayan Beach in Kota Belud, about 70km from Kota Kinabalu, the state capital.
While the homepage on the official website describes Cabana Retreat as the first pop-up beach resort in Malaysia, there are no plans as yet to relocate as Wong had leased the site for a five-year period from the land owner.
She has set up 24 cotton canvas luxurious tents, custom-made in China. The tents are equipped with lighting, air-conditioning, pillows and mattresses, side tables and most basic amenities guests would expect from a hotel stay, including free Wi-Fi and daily housekeeping. While there are no TVs, movies are screened under the stars at the open cinema.
Said Wong: “We provide a luxurious way to enjoy the outdoors, while staying connected to family and friends.”
Half a year since opening, Wong describes business as being hectic, with high occupancies usually on weekends, school holidays and long public holidays.
“Our guests are mainly locals, young couples and families, and stays range from one to three nights. International guests are mostly from China and Europe. They like Kota Belud’s nature and activities like jet skiing, paddle boarding, banana boat rides, ATV rides and local tours to see the fireflies, Mantanani Island, and river cruises.”
Besides marketing through its website and social media, Wong partners inbound tour operators. She also has plans to add more tents and to entice investors to develop more activities in Kota Belud.