Amélie Ningkan – BORNEO A LA CARTE
The Yum List discovers some of Borneo’s secrets with Amélie Ningkan, founder of BORNEO A LA CARTE.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
Hi, I am Amélie, the founder and business development manager of BORNEO A LA CARTE (BALC). It was founded in 2011 with the support of TELANG USAN TRAVEL & TOURS and her director Audry Wan Ullok.
I trained in tourism in France but always wished for further landscapes. In 2008, and over a one-year-long backpacking trip through South-Eastern Asia I took my chance with a first-time trip to Borneo (Kuching, Sarawak). From there, it is hard to explain, there is just something special about Sarawak! I guess I was at the right place at the right time and I just knew that I would have a long time love story with this land. I officially settled in Kuching in November 2009.
Being into the tourism industry, I quickly saw opportunities to develop something different as Sarawak has so much to offer! Sadly Sarawak is often seen as just an extension tour of about five days during a whole Malaysia tour. But there is so much more than that! I had the chance to discover Sarawak in a more intimate way thanks to my local friends who took me to places where I would not have been able to go by myself. That is when I decided to start BORNEO A LA CARTE and to use my experiences to bring people (mostly French at first) to meet the real Sarawak and its amazing people.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
I guess the best part of my job is my team! Laura from France who started as an intern is now my irreplaceable sales manager. Nicki from Germany is an undeniable asset for the company and all our amazing guides (including one that I ended up marrying in 2015! It feels like a little family and everybody gets along well and is very dedicated to the company. I started BALC alone and to now have such a team makes me very proud and thankful.
Another good part of my job is to get to always meet new people. We are a small travel agency and we only do tailor-made trips, so while working on the proposal with our guests we get to know them somehow better. I love when some of them come to the office to meet and thanks us, some with little goodies we might miss from France or Germany! And their feedback (TripAdvisor), comforts me into the fact that I am doing the right job! On a down day, I sometimes read those comments and it brings me back the energy I need.
For the worst, I would say the crazy dedication I have for BALC. I think BALC, live BALC, barely take leave and work at odd hours. I just can’t stop. But as I mentioned, now that I have my super team, I can breathe knowing I have the girls to back me up. I am slowly getting used to this idea.
What’s your favourite tour at BORNEO A LA CARTE?
If you want to get a taste of Sarawak food, we have the right tour for you – “Culinary City Tour”!
I advise trying the Sarawak laksa and the kolo mee as these are very typical Sarawak dishes. But then my favourite food will always be the bamboo shoot freshly harvested! And the wild durian fruits, oh gosh I love them! On a hot day, I can’t resist drinking a tea-c peng special (ice tea with milk and caramel).
The perfect day off would be…
The perfect day off would be few in a row! On my day off (Sunday) I have so much to do at home that I can’t really enjoy activities.
A day in the life of a tour operator is…
There is, of course, a daily routine, not the most exciting, but I get to not only do office work as when guests request for French-speaking guide/interpreter I can enjoy the fresh air! As a founder and manager, there is the permanent responsibility for everything but I have to say that I love that and there is not a day I regret that crazy challenge I started back in 2011.
What do you do for fun?
Hang out with friends, have them at home! The house is always full, and we have three guest rooms just to be able to host friends and family! I also love rock climbing but what I really prefer is trekking! I have a group of hiker friends that are always up for an adventure. I don’t join them as much as I would like but when I get a chance to go I feel so alive exploring the jungle!
What’s something you’d like guests to know about BORNEO A LA CARTE?
We care for each request and tailor make our tours to make memorable holidays. Do not expect a big company. Our resources are limited as we work with small structures and homestays. We know each of our suppliers and these relationships are based on years of work and friendship. Our tours are based on small groups only and it allows you to discover Sarawak not as a tourist but as a guest.
What’s your view on the hospitality industry in Kuching?
We have nice hotels, the problem is maintenance. Our clientele is mostly from Europe and I guess some are expecting higher standards. But we still have very nice small hotels and boutique hotels in Kuching. I particularly love the Batik Boutique, only 14 rooms but nice vibes and excellent management. The Talang Usan Hotel (60 rooms) is very cosy with lovely staff and beautiful Dayak collection on display. The new Waterfront Hotel (European standing) is very reactive and pleasant to work with.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
A peak season!! July and August are our most busy months.
Find more of Amélie Ningkan’s customized tours here.