“The human desire to travel and explore is universal, which is why tourism must be open for everyone to enjoy. So too must the many social and economic benefits that tourism brings be available to everybody” – Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General, UNWTO 2021.
An integral part of the global economy, the tourism industry has grown rapidly over the past few decades, and is expected to continue its growth well into the future. Oftentimes tourists are allured by the natural beauty, cultural offerings, and historic landmarks that a destination has to offer. These offerings are usually credited with helping better the economic growth of a place.
But, who is it that receives the actual benefit? Can tourism really be a tool for a more sustainable future? The harsh reality is that, while tourism can be one of the most significant drivers of economic growth, it has also been under fire for its adverse impacts on local communities and environments.
Given such instances, many travel and tourism experts have advocated for community-based tourism as a solution to these problems. However, is community-based tourism a solution, or are we hopelessly romanticizing the idea of tourism for a sustainable future?
Over the years, numerous studies and discussions have been conducted on community-based tourism and its impact. Organizations such as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), World Bank (WB) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) have highlighted the importance of spreading economic benefits to local communities and keeping its people — most importantly individuals that are marginalized and vulnerable — at the center, while creating better opportunities via tourism.
With this in mind, listed below are some key approaches that allow tourism to maximize its benefits to people. These are opportunities that work to build a sustainable future through tourism, and create a win-win situation for travelers and locals alike.
Interlinkage between community-based tourism and a sustainable future
Tourism is a powerful tool and an economic powerhouse that represents 10% of world GDP, 30% of services exports, and one out of every ten jobs in the world. It has an immense potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, it has been included as points of interest for Goals 8, 12, and 14, which cover inclusive and sustainable economic growth, sustainable consumption and production (SCP), and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources, respectively.
Not only does tourism impact these areas, travel also allows meeting and understanding diverse people and cultural backgrounds, and promoting peace and harmony. Tourism does indeed benefit and engage with local people if approached correctly.
From our experience of working with more than 25 communities across Nepal at Community Homestay Network (CHN), we have witnessed firsthand, the direct role of the community homestays helping curb a problem of over-tourism, while creating decent job opportunities and economic growth. At the time of writing, we have 300 families with approximately 1500 beneficiaries within our network. The majority of the population engaged with us being youths and women. Moreover, we have come to realize that in immersive community-based tourism, locals are not limited to just community homestays, but can access a wider communal space where they can engage themselves as cultural performers, nature guides/leaders, drivers, and many other roles.
Taking the Responsibility
Along with creating benefits for the people who truly belong to a region, community-based tourism also diversifies tourist destinations and promotes lesser-known areas. However, planning travel should not solely be travelers’ responsibility; the travel industry should also take an onus to create a sustainable future by providing travelers with varied options to make their travel sustainable, responsible, ethical and environmentally friendly.
While some tour and travel operators stick with an old narrative while promoting tourism, other actors within the tourism industry are working toward promoting a tourism model that benefits local people, local culture, and the environment. This could translate to anything from tour operators including community-based tourism in their itineraries to hotels and restaurants using locally sourced products.
Providing the community-based options for travelers
The tourism industry should try to provide better options for travelers to choose from. One should clearly understand that travelers have a crucial role and power to exercise responsible and sustainable choices. Together, travel professionals and travelers could make tourism a force of good.
Here are some of off-beaten community-based travel products that travelers could choose in order to enjoy their next holiday more responsibly:
Supporting Community-based Enterprises
You could look at various community-based enterprises supported by Planterra to make your travel even more meaningful. Planeterra is the leading non-profit using community tourism to change lives. They support various programs across the globe, working directly to empower women, youth, communities and the environment through travel.
Other enterprises like TWE-Together We Earn bring women’s empowerment programs to the next level. Similarly, projects like Maldives Plastic Program and City Walk directly support locals and allow travelers to choose environmentally friendly, youth-empowering activities while exploring new cities. These experiences help to create meaningful connections between travelers and locals.
To know more about these initiatives click here.
In the Hindu Kush Himalaya, the Kangchenjunga Landscape and Conservation Development Initiative (KLCDI) is a collaborative transboundary programme working in Bhutan, India and Nepal. The initiative has worked to develop community-based tourism and has promoted transboundary community homestay circuits.
The Initiative aims to support rural economic diversification by offering tourists diverse products and services; including local food, organic and dairy products, and the experience of rural farms and hospitality. The initiative in collaboration with CHN is developing circuits in the Jhapa, Ilam, Panchthar and Taplejung districts of eastern Nepal.
Lesser Explored Himalayas
Barely touched by the outer world and sparsely populated, Haa is a tiny yet beautiful town in the last himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Located in the scenic Haa Valley, this picturesque town is a befitting destination to feast on panoramic views of Mt. Chomolhari & Jichu Drakey. The valley also hosts an annual ‘Summer Festival’ highlighting the herders’ indigenous culture, lifestyle, and celebratory gusto.
To plan your holidays, know more here.
Tourists are bound to get carried away with Bhutan’s mesmerizing beauty, magnificent mountain ranges, breathtaking glaciers, and serene lakes. Nevertheless, Chhukha, a relatively hot and wet region, is no less breathtaking. Located in the dense subtropical forests of south-western Bhutan, the view of the lush green backdrop is truly a treat for your eyes. Options to explore the community through local delicacies and shopping makes Chhukha a perfect holiday destination in Bhutan.
To know more about Chukka and to plan your travel, click here.
Explore India like never before. Lingthem Upper Dzongu, in the north of Sikkim, is a special place to immerse yourself in its unique culture. It awaits you to witness the beauty of the village, along with the Kanchenjunga ranges, deep forests, and beautiful flora.
A place specially reserved for Lepchas, often known as the vanishing tribe, there is no better way to explore Dzongu than by living with the locals. 70 Kms away from the Gangtok, capital of the Sikkim, you will be welcomed here with warm hospitality, and rich culture and tradition. Most of the accommodations in this area are homestays which means that you would be contributing directly to the locals should you visit this area.
To plan your next trip, know more from the links below:
Exploring the Off-beaten Paths of Nepal
If you want to explore while also ensuring that you give back to the community sustainably, give the Community Homestay Network a closer look. There is no better way to immerse yourself in Nepalese culture than by becoming part of the Nepali community at its very roots.
If you plan a trip to Nepal, please message the wonderful travel experts at the Community Homestay Network.