What is community-based tourism?
Community-based tourism is a way of sustainable tourism that allows travellers to closely connect to local communities. Tourism where travellers are invited into local homes. Experiencing the actual local culture, the diversity, local rituals and beliefs.
The aim of community-based tourism is directly benefiting local communities financially, while travellers experience local way of life. Communities that participate in community-based tourism are strong, resilient and committed to show travellers their culture.
Be aware that community-based tourism is a very sensitive segment. That’s why, it’s essential that it’s developed and operated correctly to ensure actual benefits for the local communities. It’s a growing niche market, as more and more travellers are looking for authentic experiences that create benefits locally.
“75% seek authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture”. – booking.com (2023)
This article gives you the basic tools to develop community-based tourism experiences yourself and to create win-win-win situations.
In this article
What are the benefits of community-based tourism?
The unique feature of community-based tourism is that the tourism experiences are hosted and managed by local communities. It is a promising niche tourism experience with lots of opportunities. More and more travellers are interested in learning about local cultures and ways to genuinely interact with local communities. Among others, the key benefits of community-based tourism are that it:
- Sustains local culture for future generations
- Facilitates local employment
- Directly benefits locals financially
- Is fairly easy to develop with the right network
- Creates and empowers resilient and strong communities
- Adds value to your business with authentic experiences
- Allows travellers to experience the diversity and customs of local cultures
- Encourages travellers to truly connect and interact with local communities
- Stimulates increased awareness and knowledge of other cultures and traditions
- Takes your business and travellers off the beaten track into rural areas
- Supports the movement of good tourism
Community-based tourism examples
While every destination and local cultures are different, the key concept of community-based tourism is fairly similar. That’s to say, the activities can also be applied and developed in almost all destinations. Also, it’s important to stay away from staged activities and to include interaction.
“69% want the money they spend when traveling to go back to the local community”. – booking.com (2023)
Examples of community-based tourism experiences
- Cooking and tasting local food
- Visiting a local market
- Walk through the village
- Working on the field
- Experiencing the coffee process
- Fishing or sailing with locals
- Biking tour around the village
- Handcrafting or painting
- Storytelling by elders
- Homestay or farmstay
Community-based tourism examples in practice
Tour operators come in all sizes and all have a different impact on tourism destinations. Among these tour operators, there are some inspiring businesses that solely focus on benefitting local communities. Their aim is to use tourism as a tool to create a better life and future for locals and to protect the environment at the same time.
Be inspired by the following community-based projects that benefit local communities while offering travellers an authentic experience.
Potential negative impacts of community-based tourism
As mentioned, community-based tourism is a very sensitive segment. This means that it can have negative impacts and challenges if not organised and managed correctly and with care.
Community-based tourism is becoming more popular among tour operators. They’re looking to both benefit and involve local communities while developing new tourism experiences for their travellers. Therefore, it’s essential to not only explain the benefits and the development steps of community-based tourism, but also the potential negative impacts and challenges.
The main challenge within community-based tourism is community participation. And without community participation, it’s very difficult to create a successful community-based tourism experience. Community participation is influenced by:
1. Elitism and leadership conflict
Communities with a (visible) hierarchy have challenges with elitism and leadership conflict. Elite members of the communities take on leadership as they believe only these members are fit to rule. Often at the expense of the whole community itself resulting in conflict on resource ownership. One where only the few powerful and influential local elite manage and benefit from community-based tourism.
How to avoid
Avoid this by having many conversations with the community members and all stakeholders and to agree on a fair management structure.
2. Greed and corruption
For extremely poor communities, greed and corruption can become a real challenge. Especially when (some) locals feel they don’t benefit enough they’ll try and get money another way. For example, by abusing assigned power for personal gain. Thereby, it creates a begging culture where tourists are seen as walking ATMs. This creates uncomfortable situations for all involved.
How to avoid
Avoid this by making sure all community members are equally benefitted but also based on their role in the community-based tourism experience.
3. Capacity issues within the community
Managing a community-based tourism experience is hard work and time consuming. Not all locals understand the work it requires to welcome travellers into their homes. When there are too many travellers visiting, locals might feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the tourism concept. It also raises issues for the quality of the community-based tourism experience for travellers.
How to avoid
Avoid this by agreeing on the carrying capacity beforehand and making sure that the local community understands what it means to work in tourism.
4. Language issues
Many locals from rural communities aren’t able to communicate with visiting travellers in English. When they don’t know how to communicate, they’re unable to participate. And if they can’t participate in tourism, they tend to resent it. It also won’t allow them to connect with travellers in an authentic way, to explain about their daily lives and to exchange experiences.
How to avoid
Avoid this by working with translators and invest in teaching English to the (younger) community members to develop and empower themselves.
5. Lack of funding and skills
Managing a community-based tourism experience is similar to managing a starting business. In the beginning, you’d need starting capital, finances, skills, and knowledge to organise and manage the experience. Without this, it’s difficult to make it a long-term success. Even though there might be funding from stakeholders, they’ll need to be able to support themselves on the long-term.
How to avoid
Avoid this by supporting the local community with funding and support during the start-up phase, but with the aim for them to be self-managing in the future.
Developing cultural experiences on local terms
When developing new cultural experiences, it is crucial to consider the potential negative impacts of community-based tourism. Without active community participation, it is challenging to offer travellers an authentic and truly local experience.
To ensure community participation and satisfaction, adopting a comprehensive approach is essential: develop cultural experiences on local terms. The key question to ask is: What aspects of their culture do locals want to share?
By allowing locals to determine what they are willing to share and to what extent, you can achieve the following:
1. Gain the support of the local community
Involving locals in decision-making ensures that the cultural experiences have their support. This support is vital for creating a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship between the community and your business.
2. Make a positive impact
Developing cultural experiences based on local terms provides an opportunity to generate tangible benefits for the destination. By respecting the locals’ wishes, you can contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage, promote economic growth, and support community development.
3. Differentiate from competitors
Offering travel experiences that truly reflect the desires and values of the local community sets you apart from the competition. Authenticity is increasingly valued by travelers seeking meaningful and immersive experiences, and aligning with local terms helps fulfill these desires.
It is important to note that, as a tourism business, you can still bring your expertise to the table. With insights into the industry, market trends, and traveler demands, you can collaborate with the local community to transform their ideas into compelling travel experiences.
Case study: Bali in the 1960’s
To give you an idea about a local conflict, let me take you back to the 1960’s when mass tourism reached Bali for the first time. Where immediately, travellers became fascinated with the sacred Balinese dances.
The Balinese welcomed travellers to enter their temples and watch the dancing for a small fee. But as more people visited, it got crowded and chaotic. And because temples are not particularly comfortable and could only host small groups, the Balinese decided to move their dances to the tourist resorts.
All good you’d say. But some of the Western visitors were shocked. These were sacred dances and holy art! They couldn’t understand the Balinese sacrificing their holy dances and rituals. This led to a conflict between the locals and visitors.
But only because the visitors didn’t allow the locals to decide what and how they wanted to share their culture. They should have taken into account the local terms.
7 tips to develop community-based tourism
When developing community-based tourism according to the above-mentioned steps, there are more key aspects to remember and to pay close attention to. As said before, CBT is a sensitive form of tourism. Above all, it’s important that both the local community as the traveller enjoys the experience.
1. Connect with the local community
The local community is the key element of your experience. Connect with them, build trust, and think about tourism together. What is unique about their culture and what are they willing to share? To what extent do they want to change their lives? Make sure to collaborate and to give them responsibility and a voice in the entire experience.
2. Train locals in tourism
Interacting with travellers from different cultures can be a challenge for local communities. It’s important to teach communities how to communicate with travellers. How and which information to share and to make them feel welcome. Always use guides from the community itself as they know all the ins and outs of the community. This also ensures the profits stay in the community.
3. Create independency
Community-based tourism is not developed for the sake of tour operators. Local communities want to improve their livelihood and build their own future. Construct cooperative ownership. The success rate of the tourism experience depends on the communities’ sense of ownership. Let them take care of their own tourism product and enjoy the benefits.
4. Include interactive elements
In the experience economy, travellers request experiences to be entertaining, educational, imaginative and attractive. They are looking for experiences where they can participate instead of only watching and visiting. Engage them in the local culture, have them do, try and taste things and give them a truly authentic experience.
5. Think about the language
Travellers are looking for experiences with interaction. Therefore, language is an important aspect for community-based tourism. How are your travellers going to communicate with the host? The best solution is to have an English-speaking guide who is able to communicate with both the host as travellers in an enthusiastic manner.
6. Decide on the duration
Most travellers step out of their own comfort zone when doing a community-based tourism experience. Therefore, it’s important that your experiences are not too long and uncomfortable for the traveller. When you start with community-based tourism, focus on (half) day experiences first. This way, travellers can ease into it and they are also easier to develop.
7. Ensure safety
As travellers are entering an unknown area, they trust upon the guide to keep them safe. It’s important that the guide is trained in emergency situations and also knows how to explain safety issues to the travellers. Thereby, hygiene and sanitation of the local community is also very important. Especially for experiences involving food and drinks.
When done right, community-based tourism is the ultimate way of good tourism. It’s in the perfect position to create better lives for local communities, to share their stories, and to offer travellers authentic experiences. Keep the challenges and development tips in mind when developing community-based experiences to ensure success stories. Never forget the purpose, focus on creating win-win-win situations and commit yourself to good tourism for communities and travellers.