COMMUNITY BASED TOURISM
By Maurizio Davolio, president of EARTH
THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNITY TOURISM
There are different definitions of community tourism with strong similarities and some differences which probably originate from diverse sensitivities and experiences gained in specific contexts. However, all things considered, we are talking about nuances, of underscoring rather than actual differences.
Let’s begin with the definition of Tourism Concern, an historical and distinguished British organisation involved in reviewing tourism and spreading the ideas of responsible tourism (www.tourismconcern.org)
Tourism that benefits local people
Community tourism (sometimes called community-based tourism) is a form of tourism which aims to include and benefit local communities, particularly indigenous peoples and villagers in the rural South (i.e. ‘developing world’). For instance, villagers might host tourists in their village, managing the scheme communally and sharing the profits. There are many types of community tourism project, including many in which the ‘community’ works with a commercial tour operator, but all community tourism projects should give local people a fair share of the benefits/profits and a say in deciding how incoming tourism is managed.
Community tourism should…
- Be run with the involvement and consent of local communities. (Local people should participate in planning and managing the tour.)
- Give a fair share of profits back to the local community.(Ideally this will include community projects (health, schools, etc).)
- Involve communities rather than individuals. (Working with individuals can disrupt social structures.)
- Be environmentally sustainable. (Local people must be involved if conservation projects are to succeed.)
- Respect traditional culture and social structures.
- Have mechanisms to help communities cope with the impact of western tourists.
- Keep groups small to minimise cultural / environmental impact.
- Brief tourists before the trip on appropriate behaviour.
- Not make local people perform inappropriate ceremonies, etc.
- Leave communities alone if they don’t want tourism. (People should have the right to say ‘no’ to tourism.)
As can be seen in this definition, the important aspects of community tourism can be summarised as such:
- The role of the local community in deciding the programming and managing of the tourism – the community can also decide to not accept tourism.
- A fair economic return for the community, also in terms of support for projects of a collective nature.
- Environmental sustainability of the tourism, also in hosting small groups.
- Respect for traditional culture and social organisation.
- Protecting the local community from external impacts which could be reduced also by suitably preparing the tourist for the trip.
- No to the folklorisation and trivialisation of the local culture and lifestyle.
Let’s now look at the definition provided by responsibletravel.com, a British portal very well-known and accepted in responsible tourism (www.responsibletravel.com):
A community by definition implies individuals with some kind of collective responsibility, and the ability to make decisions by representative bodies.
Community based tourism is tourism in which local residents (often rural, poor and economically marginalised) invite tourists to visit their communities with the provision of overnight accommodation.
The residents earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees. At least part of the tourist income is set aside for projects which provide benefits to the community as a whole.
Community based tourism enables the tourist to discover local habitats and wildlife, and celebrates and respects traditional cultures, rituals and wisdom. The community will be aware of the commercial and social value placed on their natural and cultural heritage through tourism, and this will foster community based conservation of these resources.
The tourist accommodation and facilities will be of sufficient standard for Western visitors, albeit those expecting simple rural accommodation. The community will be required to have continuous access to a phone (which might be required for medical assistance) and daily access to email (which will be required by operators to confirm bookings).
The community may choose to partner with a private sector partner to provide capital, clients, marketing, tourist accommodation or other expertise. Subject to agreement to the ideals of supporting community development and conservation, and to planning the tourism development in partnership with the community, this partner may or may not own part of the tourism enterprise.
This description introduces some additional aspects.
One of the positive effects of community tourism is mentioned – that is, not only does the community receive a benefit from the tourism, but it also gains an awareness of the social and commercial value of its natural and cultural heritage and is therefore encouraged to conserve it.
This also involves the quality of the services offered and the organisational aspects – adequate standards to host guests from the so-called West (that is, from wealthy countries), even if at a simple rural level of accommodation but with access to a telephone and email.
The possibility to cooperate commercially with business partners, also external to the community, is mentioned. However, they must be in agreement with the aim to support the development of the community and plan the tourism in partnership with that community. Thus, excluding any type of business relations that would steal from or speculate on the community.
The literature contains an infinite number of definitions and descriptions and their systematic and detailed examination could lead us to going well beyond the objectives of this manual.
We will conclude here with a description provided by Community Empowerment Network (www.endruralpoverty.org)
Many of the world’s most beautiful resources exist in endangered habitats and vulnerable communities. Community-based ecotourism is a form of ecotourism that emphasizes the development of local communities and allows for local residents to have substantial control over, and involvement in, its development and management, and a major proportion of the benefits remain within the community. Community-based ecotourism should foster sustainable use and collective responsibility, but it also embraces individual initiatives within the community. 
With this form of ecotourism, local residents share the environment and their way of life with visitors, while increasing local income and building local economies. By sharing activities such as festivals, homestays, and the production of artisan goods, community-based tourism allows communities to participate in the modern global economy while cultivating a sustainable source of income and maintaining their way of life. A successful model of community-based tourism works with existing community initiatives, utilizes community leaders, and seeks to employ local residents so that income generated from tourism stays in the community and maximizes local economic benefits.
Although ecotourism often promises community members improved livelihoods and a source of employment, irresponsible tourism practices can exhaust natural resources and exploit local communities. It is essential that approaches to community-based ecotourism projects be a part of a larger community development strategy and carefully planned with community members to ensure that desired outcomes are consistent with the community’s culture and heritage. In many ways, participants are not employees, but managers. Community-based tourism initiatives decrease poverty not only by increasing income but also by providing residents of rural communities with the tools and knowledge necessary for long-term critical thinking and decision-making. Tourism is no panacea; community-based ecotourism and responsible tourism should be part of wider sustainable development strategies.
CEN’s principles for community-based tourism
Identity: Respect and preserve all the characteristics of the environment, help residents reclaim historical practices, revitalize productive activities, highlight the ethnic background of the population, and highlight the unique aspects of the locality, such as topography, climate, architecture, cuisine and handicrafts.
Roots and Customs: Highlight local cultural practices so that communities share their cultures and traditions with tourists with authenticity. Invaluable educational opportunities such as homestays and town-hall-style round of talks are encouraged so that tourists and local community members can mutually share cultural aspects such as food, music, folklore, and goods. Both visitor and community cultures will always be treated with appreciation and respect.
Ecological Consciousness and Harmony: Seek to conserve natural ecosystems and cultures by being a part of a larger development plan. All plans have a low impact on the local environment while highlighting the unique aspects of the locality, such as topography, climate, and architecture. The conservation of nature and rigorous concern with the environment influence the development of infrastructure for community-based ecotourism activities (i.e. building houses, roads, showers, etc.).
Local Control: Local control of the community-based ecotourism industry. Local leadership leads plans and encourages clear and transparent decision-making. Community members actively make decisions on strategies and acceptable levels of tourism based upon the community’s culture, heritage and vision. Strategies also equip local communities with the tools and knowledge necessary for decision-making, and to build effective structures to enable the community to influence, manage and benefit from ecotourism development and practice.
Sustainable Economic Development: Stimulate the local economy by generating income through the sustainable use of natural resources. All plans seek to ensure that the local population has an equitable share in benefits.
The description of community tourism, considered as a form of ecotourism, is in this case wide and detailed.
Some specifically significant aspects are highlighted – community tourism as an element and outcome of a general development plan for an area. Its impact must not only be economic but also structural and infrastructural (construction of buildings, roads, setting up services) and always in the framework of local control in making decisions, respect for the local culture, environmental sustainability and sharing in the benefits generated by the tourism.
The possibility is also underlined for visitors or guests to join the local people in different community events – the cultural life, traditions, food, music – all in a context of reciprocal respect.
We could continue our review, but we’ll stop here as the concept has been sufficiently outlined and the descriptions quite thorough.
Read the whole presentation of Community tourism by Maurizio Davolio, president of EARTH: Community based tourism by Maurizio Davolio EARTH