The COVID-19 crisis has given us time to reflect on past travel habits and the need to choose and explore more options to travel responsibly. The world is slowly starting to travel again after being at a standstill during the pandemic. As travel operators, we need to be more careful in assessing the local ecosystems and communities around the world while planning and promoting the trips. At Community Homestay Network, we are prepared to offer more responsible ways of traveling. Traveling to local communities via Community Homestay Network enables an opportunity for travelers to live with the locals and creates a tourism value chain that can generate local job opportunities and directly improve livelihoods. For local indigenous communities, the prospect of tourism was a viable solution to increase their income in the pre-pandemic period. The community homestay model alongside the homestay also has helped develop various local and cultural activities into tourism experiences. With the inquiries coming in from travelers, we are hopeful that the opportunities to diversify the income in local communities through tourism are gleaming bright.
As the goal is to understand a travel destination deeply, the travelers’ need and want to connect with the locals is high. However, rural communities can not promote their diverse culture and landscapes to their full potential with limited exposure to technology and marketing. And for the same reason, the travelers cannot connect with the local people to plan their travel. With this realization, Community Homestay Network (CHN) was established in 2017 to directly promote tourism that benefits locals.
Tourism activities that include staying with local host families enhance the potential of any destination to create beautiful and long-lasting memories for travelers. One of the primary responsibilities of our work is to broaden the way people think about Nepal. For example, when people think about going to Nepal, they often imagine trekking in the mountains. Living with communities helps travelers explore Nepal beyond that and let them enjoy the country’s rich culture and heritage.
With our direct engagement with communities through Community Homestays, we have tried to list down five ways Community-based tourism could/has been benefiting the locals:
1. Maximizing the Benefits to Lesser-known Areas through Experiential Travel
Experiential travel is a win-win scenario for both the locals and the travelers. Testimonies from our previous travelers enjoying the local communities via community homestays have enabled us to understand the potential of promoting an off-beaten path. They have mentioned how they have enjoyed the true colors of Nepal, built strong relationships with Nepalese families, and created an impact just by choosing meaningful travel. Some of our communities are far away from the mainstream marketed areas, making the journey and destination even more beautiful.
Being a guest at the Bhada Community Homestay in the village of far-western Nepal allows you an up-close glimpse of rural village life. The Bhada Community Homestay is situated between the Bardiya National Park and the Shuklaphanta National Park. Both prime wildlife-watching areas of Western Nepal see far fewer visitors than the Chitwan National Park. Travelers who make an effort to get out here can experience a landscape and Tharu culture that has not been trampled by tourism. Through community homestays, you could explore the flat plains of Nepal to the picturesque villages in the lap of the Himalayas. Another such community homestay is Narchyang Community Homestay, village life coupled with the scenic views of mountains and landscapes. It gives a sense of a true retreat in the lap of the Himalayas. Its breathtaking views and beautiful trails, yet you can learn so much about its culture and way of life.
The benefits of experiential travel should never be limited to the travelers or the travel supply chain. Through community homestays, we are trying to highlight unexplored yet beautiful places of Nepal so that the economic benefits are spread evenly in the rural communities while amplifying the voices of local people to participate more proactively in the industry.
2. Building a Sense of Resilience
This pandemic showed us that when we help locals develop their entrepreneurial skills by engaging them in tourism, we are helping them to open more than one avenue. Amid the uncertainty during the first wave of the pandemic in Nepal, one of our Panauti Community Homestay hosts turned her hobby into a business. Instead of giving up hope because tourism had come to a halt, she started her own online business making masks and scrunchies and diversified her source of income.
Moreover, even when the uncertainty of the second wave was still looming in Nepal, the community homestay at the Shree Antu, Ilam, was working to rebuild its infrastructure better. Reflecting on the times when travelers visited and loved their communities, they believed the pandemic would end and travelers would return to their beloved communities. With this hope, the hosts of Shree Antu Community Homestay took personal loans from cooperatives and financial institutions to upgrade their infrastructure and provide guests with a comfortable and authentic experience.
These examples show the impact community-based tourism can have on local communities. The thought of reinvesting and pivoting the business ideas shows their sense of resilience and how tourism can create meaningful impacts in communities.
3. Preserving Cultural and Natural Heritage
At Panauti Community Homestay, our first and flagship project, one of the experiences we curated promoted was playing the dhime baja, a traditional drum-like musical instrument.
The knowledge to play this instrument almost became extinct in Panauti because of the youth’s lack of importance and interest. Curating as an experience has given a rare opportunity to local young people to learn their own culture, which also provided them with an extra income. At the same time, travelers got a chance to enjoy the traditional form of art.
Before curating it as an experience, as many had forgotten to play the traditional instrument, Community Homestay Network helped to facilitate the Dhime playing training session for three months for the community.
On the other hand, communities near the forests like Bardiya Community Homestay have understood the importance of wildlife conservation and preservation of community forests. From guided forest walks where you can spot animals and birds to jungle safaris (jeep), to spending a night in a Machan– treehouse, there is a range of activities that have helped the locals to understand the importance of their natural environment. Realizing the need to preserve their forest to preserve their local habitat and diversify their financial gains, they have developed innovative ways to preserve and protect them.
4. Opportunities for all
Tourism offers opportunities to people from all walks of life, supporting vulnerable groups, including minorities, youth, and women among others. Along with diversifying the destinations and promoting the lesser-known area, community-based tourism also supports communities to provide job opportunities to other locals expect than the homestay owners. From our experience with different community homestays, we have seen that along with adding income to the hosts, through the tourism activity and experiences, various other opportunities are created for local guides, drivers, local producers/shopkeepers, budding entrepreneurs, among others. For example, as a ripple effect of Panauti Community Homestay, the youths of Panauti started Panauti Bike Station, a community-based business for Mountain Biking to create job opportunities for local youths in their communities to minimize youth migration.
5. Strengthen community development
A tide of desire to explore community-based tourism has risen, and more than ever, we need to understand and emphasize how we approach them. As a tour and travel operator, we partner and collaborate with communities to develop and support tourism enterprises and destinations. We also reinvest and provide financial support to develop/upgrade facilities and new experiences. 85% of revenue generated goes to homestay and experience providers and CHN receives 15% of the revenue. Of the 85%, the families hosting the experiences receive 80% and 20% goes to community development funds. Community Homestays from Barauli and Maipokhari have been using the community fund to upgrade their infrastructure like internet connectivity and installing street lights, while Panauti Community Homestay has sponsored a child for better education. According to the community’s needs, they have wisely invested in their priorities. Working at a community level strengthens collaboration and fosters harmony in the community, which we believe is essential while supporting local communities.
The Community Homestay Network is an institution that actively strives for better experiences on both sides of the spectrum. Not only do we work to give our guests a more authentic and communal travel experience, but we also strive to ensure that the communities that make our work possible are able to reap the maximum benefits of our endevours.
If you want to scratch that itch for travel, while also ensuring that you give back to the community sustainably, give the Community Homestay Network a closer look. There is really no better way to immerse yourself in Nepalese culture than by becoming part of the Nepali community at its very roots. If you are planning a trip to Nepal, it’s highly recommended that you drop a message to the travel experts at the Community Homestay Network.