How Community-Based Tourism Can Transform Destinations

Community based tourism
| 5 min read

Community-based tourism (CBT) is centered around the essence of community. It allows individuals and their community, often from impoverished or minority backgrounds, a chance to collectively better their standard of living. This sustainable type of tourism affords the community the additional income they require to finally free themselves of illegal activities (such as wildlife poaching in Africa and Malaysia). It is, however, not a one-way exchange. The chance to be hosted by the local community affords the traveler a different perspective of life away from the popular tourist trails. It also allows travelers to gain insight into the food and cultural practices of the locals that are usually hidden behind a facade of gimmicky ads. Continue scrolling to learn more about how community-based tourism can transform destinations.

What is community-based tourism?

African safari route
Source: Photo by Flickr user Simone Roda used under CC BY 2.0

Community-based tourism is a niche form of sustainable tourism that allows visitors to participate in societies at the grassroots level. It also enables travelers to experience a country off the beaten track and oftentimes leads to a wider understanding of the struggles that communities in the developing world face. It also provides an opportunity to gain insight into traditions that many in urban centers might have forgone in exchange for more accessible elements.

As a sample scenario, many rural communities in Africa rely on poaching as the logical path to gaining income while meeting the demand of procuring parts of exotic and endangered animals. However, tourism has allowed these individuals to leave the illegal trade and partner with tour companies to provide ethical safari experience and local knowledge. It also made the locals aware of the travelers’ interest in learning more about the place and helping local populations.

The first steps in CBT most likely came about due to a lack of hotels and mainstream amenities such as restaurants in the community. Therefore, individuals had the opportunity to host global travelers at their homes and give them a taste of local cuisine and customs. Today, CBT in rural communities has evolved to include activities such as cooking and fishing, where visitors can integrate themselves into local life.

The long-term success of CBT lies in its integration with conventional tourism, while at the same time, communities have to learn not to turn themselves into a mockery of their culture.

The benefits of community-based tourism

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user LannaPhoto used under CC BY-SA 4.0

It is easy to see the monetary gains that community-based tourism brings to individual households. These come in the form of prices charged for a room and food preparation. Additional income can be gained by taking the tourists on localized excursions that have them working with other locals who provide services and experiences such as farming or hopping on a trawler for night fishing. However, the main goal of CBT is not simply empowering individuals but uplifting the community as a whole. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, “[f]or rural communities everywhere, tourism can be a true gamechanger in providing jobs, supporting local businesses and keeping traditions alive.”

10 long-term benefits of community-based tourism include:

  • offers diversified sources of income;
  • encourages entrepreneurship;
  • access to better road infrastructure, electricity, and sanitation;
  • motivation to learn English and achieve a basic level of literacy to better communicate with travelers;
  • encourages the youth to continue living in their hometowns instead of expatriating to urban centers;
  • provides local employment opportunities;
  • allows host communities to sustain traditional practices and way of life;
  • encourages the community to help conserve natural resources;
  • offers travelers a platform to gain insight into local culture and practices; and
  • supports the practice of sustainable tourism.

It is easy to see that there are substantial benefits of encouraging and implementing community-based tourism. Governments, tour operators, and community leaders need to define a framework of practices to effectively help sustain the CBT model. In the long run, this emerging travel trend will allow impoverished communities to gain financial independence and secure a stable future for their families.

Community-based tourism destinations

Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Source: Photo by Flickr user Gido used under CC BY 2.0

Community-based tourism is most prevalent in developing communities, and it has far-reaching economic benefits. However, it is also practiced in countries such as Finland, where visitors can acquire a better understanding of the local Sámi tribe and reindeer herding firsthand at a family farm.

These are some must-see destinations to explore if sustainable travel and community-based experiences interest you:

Shivadwar Village, Madi Valley, Nepal

Madi Valley lies at the edge of the popular Chitwan National Park in Nepal and is one of the most popular attractions in the country. For villages close to this natural attraction, it meant the loss of crops and income due to wildlife trampling. While tourism was booming at the park, the benefits were only being reaped by the large tour operators.

Co-operation between the village, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF Nepal), and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading (DFAT) allowed tour operators to introduce Madi Valley to their itineraries in Nepal. This partnership not only provided income to participating families but also led to a fence being built around the village to provide protection from wild animals.

San José de Uchupiamonas, Bolivia

San José de Uchupiamonas is home to Chalalán Ecolodge—an accommodation established in 1995 within the Madidi National Park. The goal is for the lodge to eventually be fully owned and operated by the villagers of San José de Uchupiamonas. It is only accessible by boat and is the result of a joint effort between the indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas and Conservation International (CI). This project trained the villagers in various aspects of successfully running a lodge, which helped the community become self-reliant.

The community received complete ownership of the lodge in 2001 and continues to operate it successfully.

Penan Villages, Borneo, Malaysia

The island of Borneo is an ecological wonderland and home to several endemic plant and animal life. It is one of the largest parcels of rainforest land in the world but has been hurt by illegal logging and ever-growing palm tree plantations. Tour operators have tied with the indigenous Penan tribe who are traditionally hunters and gatherers and who rely heavily on the forest.

A trip to the land of the Penan people allows visitors to help plant saplings and reforest destroyed land in the local community. Visitors also have the chance to witness jungle survival skills as the culture of a fast-disappearing tribe.

Masheruka and Bombo Villages, Uganda

Community-Based Tourism Initiative of Uganda (COBATI) is headed by award-winning community advocate Maria Baryamujura, who wishes to promote tourism that enriches rural communities. Their Homestay Model Homes Program ties tourism with culture and conservation and chooses select homes to undergo renovation wherein they can be used to host tourists visiting Uganda.

Over the years, the program has partnered with travel operators that promote enriching community-based holidays. COBATI also helps to provide vocational and tourism training to deserving individuals and families. A stay at a model home allows the visitors not just to experience local life but also the opportunity to purchase local handicrafts created by women artisans.

Community-based tourism can lead to an enriching holiday experience

Madi View From Rupse
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Acharya Bipin used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Not every holiday needs to follow the most popular tourist trails. The most memorable holidays are the ones where local elements are celebrated, which in turn leads to overall economic security for the host communities. Travel sustainably, empower societies, and experience how community-based tourism can transform destinations.

Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Raised in Bangkok and now living in India, Pallavi loves planning and going on road trips around the country. She believes they are the best way to understand a region!

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