Community tourism: how your trip can have a positive impact on the local population


This lack of market access – and the lack of knowledge, skills and infrastructure needed to run a successful travel business – is critical. As Justin Francis of Responsible Travel puts it: “Being able to access the distribution chains of the tourism industry – to get customers through the doors – is difficult without the partnership of an established tour operator. When CBT first emerged about 20 to 25 years ago, he says, NGOs and donors reached out to communities, built beautiful ecolodges, but left communities very little voice – and only provided not the training, infrastructure, and business know-how to lead to any kind of success.

According to Francis, having a voice is essential where elected community representatives participate in decision-making: “The driving force behind successful CBT projects is the local people who set the conditions. It’s about them making informed decisions about how tourism develops.

In the case of the Ccaccaccollo women’s weaving cooperative in the Sacred Valley of Peru, it was three women who had that voice. “When they came to us, only a handful could do traditional Inca weaving,” says Sweeting. Led by these women, Planeterra helped with training, infrastructure and marketing, and the cooperative boomed, now owned and run by over 65 people, with an attached host family attracting overnight visitors.

CBT can be particularly beneficial for empowering women, who are often responsible for the stay or catering components of a trip. Dreamcatchers, a tour operator in South Africa, recognized this more than 30 years ago and helped launch a range of CBT businesses, including “Kammama”, a selection of stays and experiences at the nationally run by women, ranging from cooking classes in Soweto to an overnight stay. with a family in the Cape Winelands.

In the case of Ccaccaccollo, the ripple effect has been a huge increase in education in the community: all the women involved are now fully literate in Spanish, the first generation to achieve this locally, and most have children. in higher education – another first. “And there has been an increase in pride in their culture. They adopt it. They can see people from dozens of countries traveling to visit them because they have something special to offer,” says Sweeting.

This special offer is what’s in it for us. “For travelers, CBT offers an authentic experience and insight into local life,” says Zina Bencheikh, at Intrepid Travel. “Travelers are welcomed into a community and given the chance to immerse themselves.” Intrepid now aims to incorporate a degree of CBT into many of its sustainable small group adventure tours. “Our clients often speak of our CBT experiences as one of the unexpected highlights of their trip,” says Bencheikh.

So how do you spot the good guys? How do you know if a lodge, restaurant or experience that claims to benefit a community really is? “Ask questions,” says Dr. Kimbu. “Discuss with those organizing your trip.” Bencheikh agrees. “Do your research. Before your visit, ask questions about how the project is run and where the money for your visit is going. Traveling with a trusted tour operator is also a good idea, as is researching certification programs such as B Corp.

Covid-19, of course, had a terrible impact on CBT. Planeterra recently launched the Global Community Tourism Network, providing online training, promotion and marketing, to help organizations prepare for the return of tourists. “Many communities don’t have access to the Internet or telephone,” says Sweeting. “Thus, we also have 16 strategic partnerships, mainly local associations with their own network. Our reach is now over 800 community tourism businesses in 75 countries.

On the other hand, Covid-19 has also changed the way we want to travel. “There’s been a definite shift, with more travelers wanting to find purpose in their travels,” says Sweeting. “We have to take advantage of it. When you’re able to experience something community owned and operated, it’s much more rewarding and a fairer experience for both host and guest. As Dr. Kimbu says, “CBT has a sense of fairness and justice.”

It is this sense of fairness and justice that has driven the success of Spirit Bear Lodge for over 20 years and which the community hopes will last for generations. “I hope my children and future children will continue with Spirit Bear Lodge,” Robinson tells me. “Watching the growth of this business has been incredible. It’s a great way to learn, grow and thrive in our home countries. You can’t say fairer than that.

Posted in the May 2022 problem of National Geographic Traveler (UK)

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