There is an interesting trend catching up among tourists worldwide and it is called community-based tourism. This is actually a kind of sustainable tourism or ecotourism, through which local residents invite travellers to visit or rather to stay in their own communities. This is done with the intent to provide a true understanding of local culture as well as traditions. Such communities are most often rural, struggling economically, or in some regions living below the poverty line. Community-based tourism (CBT) provides them with the opportunity to take ownership of their area’s tourism and its industry in the form of managers, entrepreneurs, service providers as well as employees. Most importantly, this ensures most of the times that the economic benefits are directly contributing to the welfare of local families and that they stay within the community, as a whole.
Definition and Principles of Community-Based Tourism
In the year 2019, travel as well as the tourism industry contributed to one in four new jobs created globally, whereas international visitor spending was $1.7 trillion or 6.8 per cent of the total imports, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Many more surveys show that the travellers are becoming increasingly interested in sustainable travel trends and are quite willing to support small businesses and communities. According to another international poll of travellers in countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, India, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, it found that as much as 68 per cent of them are more aware of sustainable travel companies, whereas as many as 72 per cent want to help boost the tourism revenue of local economies of destinations that they visit.
Whereas the CBT is a kind of sustainable tourism, it, however, differs from voluntourism and ecotourism. The CBT is meant for benefitting communities and environments as a whole, rather than just focusing specifically on charity or nature. From a traveller’s perspective, the CBT offers the unique opportunity to immerse in the local culture as well as participate whole-heartedly in a unique tourism experience.
According to Responsible Travel, which is a United Kingdom-based activism company and one that has fostered sustainable travel opportunities since the year 2001, the CBT has the potential to enable a tourist to discover culture and wildlife that they may not have otherwise experienced in the conventional travel modes.
“For many tourists, there is hardly anything like bridging centuries of modern development and making a connection with people whose lives are so different from our own,” the company says. “Those privileged to have visited would have discovered traditional communities often have far more to teach us about our own society and our own lives than we can teach them about our own world.”
Community-based tourism is often developed by a destination’s local or regional government, but it can also receive help from nonprofit organizations, private funds, community members or partnerships with travel companies. Many a time, community-based tourism projects are a runaway success story due to cooperation between a community and tourism experts.
For instance, in the Madi Valley of Nepal in the Shivadwar Village, the local community reached out to the nonprofit organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF Nepal) for assistance in the year 2015. Wild animals, which were residing in the renowned Chitwan National Park, were creating problems for the surrounding villages by wandering into agricultural lands and damaging crops, thus limiting incomes as well as employment opportunities for the locals who were living in the popular national park’s buffer zone. The WWF Nepal applied for funding through the Business Partnership Platform and tied up with the travel company Intrepid in order to help the village develop a sustainable community-based tourism project. Today, as many as thirteen out of 34 homes in the village function as homestays, with the incomes directly going and contributing to families.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Community-based Tourism
When local community members witness tourists spending money to experience traditional life, they feel empowered and this helps them keep mass exploitative tourism from entering into their own communities. Nevertheless, each and every situation is unique in its own right and there could always be room for other advantages as well as disadvantages.
Advantage: Community-based Tourism Stimulates Economy
A successful Community-based Tourism program can distribute benefits equally and equitably to participants. This also leads to the diversification of the local job market. Even those community members who are not directly employed or involved with such homestays could also act as helpers and guides. They could supply goods, provide meals or carry out other tourism related jobs. In fact, women in such communities are quite often responsible for various homestay components of the tourism program. Thus, CBT can indeed help create new and novel spaces for women and help them to take up leadership roles. They could even run own businesses in a lot of under-developed communities.
Disadvantage: Room for Benefit Leakage
However, benefit leakage can happen when money that is getting generated by an industry, for example the tourism industry, leaves the host community and ends up somewhere else. As per a report on the Muen Ngoen Kong Community of Chiang Mai, Thailand, some of the community members had felt that the profit from such type tourism may not always filter down to local economy and that the cost they incurred had far outweighed the benefits. In such cases, those locally owned small businesses were also seen operating against stronger and more competitive international competitors.
Advantage: Environmental Conservation
Community-based Tourism can help to create alternative sources of income for the local communities and this implies lesser economic and financial dependence on other industries which could harm an area’s biodiversity like illegal poaching or logging. Members of the local community of Chi Phat Commune in Cambodia, for example, actually went from totally relying and depending on logging and tree felling inside the Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains in order to generate new income through the means of sustainable family run eco-tourism businesses with help from the Wildlife Alliance.
Disadvantage: Community-based Tourism May Not Always Be Successful
If the Community-based Tourism project does not have a management strategy from the start itself or have a clear vision, it could run the risk of failing in its objectives. This can be catastrophic for under-developed communities which have invested money, time, or energy in the Community-based Tourism project. Successful CBT projects, however, are able to bring together communities if they work in tandem with tourism experts, particularly those who know and understand how to operate and function in such unique situations.
Advantage: CBT Can Preserve Cultures and Traditions
Employment prospects in the CBT do not just provide members with social skills as well as training in the communities but it can also prevent the young generation from leaving their community in search of employment opportunities and prevent them from seeking work in bigger cities. However, at the same time, a community can recognize and benefit from commercial as well as social values that ecotourism places on their natural heritage and cultural traditions, and also help in fostering conservation of such valuable resources even more.
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