How to develop community-based tourism?

Community-based tourism is a type of tourism where local communities invite tourists into their communities, giving them insight into their culture and daily lives. It is a form of sustainable tourism that allows travellers to connect closely to the local community they visit.

Travellers are able to experience the diversity and customs of another culture and to interact with the local community. Think about homestays, farm visits, cooking and crafting together, storytelling, village tours and more that shows insight in their daily lives.

These types of activities create the foundation for increased awareness and knowledge of another culture, its beliefs and social norms. This is what we need if we want to create a futureproof tourism industry where we sustain local culture and nature for future generations!

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The market is already there

Community-based tourism is a promising segment as travellers are increasingly looking for unique and authentic experiences. They are willing to spend more money on these activities, especially if this benefits local communities. It’s already a fast-growing niche market and more and more travelers are interested in learning about local communities and to interact with them.

According to the trend rapport of Responsible Travel, there has been an increase in the commitment of travellers towards local communities. 55% of 1405 respondents have indicated to have actively contributed to local wellbeing. This is a great improvement and now, as tourism industry, we need to make sure the offer is available!

The benefits of community-based tourism

Besides the fact that you add enormous value to your tour operating business by offering clients unique experiences, you can (and will!) create huge positive impact and change for local communities if you do it right. Tourism is in the perfect position of creating job opportunities and to let local communities share their amazing stories.

Value people over profit and help sustain local communities! Communities that are involved in community-based tourism are strong, resilient and extremely willing to show tourists their culture. They are able to manage both the impacts and benefits of tourism, strengthening their self-governance, economic alternatives and traditional ways of life in the process.

How can you develop this?

The concept of community-based tourists sounds good and adds great value to your company. But how do you develop a unique, off the beaten track community experience for your clients that puts you on the map and also creates positive impact? It all comes down to these following six steps.

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Step 1: Connect with local communities

First, you need to determine if the community you would like to work with wants change. Do they want to invite tourists to their homes? Do they want to spend their time teaching tourists how to cook local dishes? If they do want change, great!

Now you can start talking about what they can and want to offer in terms of products and services. What is unique about their culture? What would they like to share? It is extremely important to let the community have a say in the decision-making process and development of the new tourism products. In the end, they are the ones creating the product, you are only giving them the opportunity and support.

Step 2: Train them in tourism

Once you have the community committed to hosting your tourists it is essential that they are prepared and educated. Dealing with tourists from a completely different culture is difficult and it’s important that the community knows what to expect, how to offer their services right and also how to properly communicate to your clients.

If this is not done right, the lack of understanding of tourism and its impact can lead to unbalanced communities fed by jealousy and rivalry. It takes time for local communities to accept and develop their tourism culture and this is best done by organising workshops that practically prepares them for their new jobs in the best way possible.

Step 3: Create cooperative ownership

In order for community-based tourism to be successful it is entirely dependent on cooperative ownership and leadership. You as a tour operator can be the project initiator, but the success rate of the community-based product depends on the communities’ sense of ownership. Let them take responsibility and take care of their own tourism product.

To make sure you are creating a positive impact that affects a large group in the community, cooperative ownership is essential. This basically means that an independent association of community members are united to take care of their common community-based tourism project. This will ensure a fair development and decision-making process and prevents only few people benefitting from the tourism industry.

“Always remember: what’s ordinary for the local community is a unique experience for the traveller.”

Step 4: Create community products

One of the most important aspects of community-based tourism is obviously the product itself. You will need a local excursion or activity that gives insight in the daily lives of the local community and that educates tourists on their culture. Always use local guides from the village itself, as they are the perfect guides as they will know all the ins and outs of this community.

Key is to keep it authentic, stay away from staged activities and always include interactive components. Travellers love to participate. They like to see the full process of coffee, cook traditional dishes, go to the market, and even fetch water. Always remember: what’s ordinary for the local community is a unique experience for the traveller!

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Step 5: Create partnerships

For your project to create maximum positive impact for the local community, make sure to join forces with other local businesses. Those who are also interested in community-based tourism and businesses who don’t have the means or time to develop a project themselves.

Working in partnerships is extremely important for creating a futureproof tourism industry and Goal 17 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Potential partners can be hotels, lodges, other tour operators or even restaurants! As long as you are able to work together and to create a win-win situation with double impact.

Step 6: Think about marketing your new product

Now that you have established a relationship with the local community, prepared and trained them in tourism, created cooperative ownership, developed your unique product and created partnerships for more impact, you now have to think about the marketing. Think about how to promote your new product to your clients, your target market.

The key message here is to emphasise on the power of community-based tourism. Promote it as the best way to interact with local communities and to learn about their culture. Travellers are sensitive for background stories and are interested in the positive impact you are making. If it’s attractive, unique and doing good for local communities they will be interested!

Starting the process

With these six basic steps you will be able to start the development process of your own community-based tourism product that will benefit local communities, while offering your clients the unique and authentic experience they are looking for!

Do you need more help in developing a community-based tourism product or do you have questions?

Contact Fair Sayari

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