Yagua village children

Why Community Tourism is Vital to Responsible Travel

Yagua village children

5 Reason Why Community Tourism Is Not Only Essential But The Future Of Responsible Travel

Overtourism– the natural by-product of mass tourism– was arguably the most significant travel trend of 2017. Overtourism is the opposite of responsible travel– overcrowded, unsustainable, and exploitative. It’s often the result of cheap flights and cruises, un-checked development, and poor government planning.

Unfortunately, it's happening more and more all around the world. Due to overcrowding, Dubrovnik has been threatened with losing its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Locals in Barcelona are being priced out of their neighborhoods due to the rising popularity (and quick profits) of Airbnb. On Scotland's Isle of Skye, roads are so crowded in summer that locals can't get to the grocery store or visit their families.

So the big question for 2018 is, how will the travel industry respond?

The definition of ecotourism ("responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people") illustrates the need for the industry to benefit both the ECOlogy and the ECOnomy of a destination. We believe that this is the only approach to travel that works for everyone– locals, endemic flora and fauna, industry stakeholders, and travelers alike.

Here’s a look at five reasons why we believe these sorts of community-focused initiatives are the future of sustainable travel:

1. It Gives Locals a Voice in Tourism Development

When local communities aren't given a voice in tourism, there's almost always a resulting rise in anti-tourist sentiment. In 2017, radicals slashed bus tires and broke hotel windows in Spain. There were huge demonstrations n Venice, a city of 55,000 residents swarmed by over 20 million visitors annually. This type of over-tourism is unsustainable and irresponsible.

Community-based tourism gives locals a say in tourism development, allowing them to help determine where the line between “just enough” and “too much” lies. Making them a part of the process during both the planning and execution phases gives the entire community a sense of ownership. It ensures they feel empowered rather than exploited, valued rather than vulnerable.

Community tourism helps local villages

2. It Gives Locals a Source of Revenue

When tourism development is allowed to go unchecked, it often leaves locals disenfranchised and increases the divide between the haves and the have-nots. For instance, when landlords are allowed to rent out local housing on Airbnb at inflated prices, it displaces the local people. They can no longer afford to live near the center of tourism activity, which makes their housing and transportation issues much more difficult.

But when local communities become the center of tourist activity, residents are given a financial stake in the travel industry’s success. They can rent out extra rooms for homestays, become tour guides or porters, work in local hotels or restaurants that cater to tourists, or sell their arts and crafts as souvenirs. And when locals have a sustainable source of income that’s provided by the community in which they live, they tend to take an even greater sense of pride in that community.

3. It Contributes to Conservation of Nature & Culture

When remote communities don’t have access to quality jobs, locals are forced to either leave their community or exploit their natural resources in order to survive. We’ve seen it time and again on our travels. Mayans in Mexico who moved from tiny villages to Cancun in search of work. Ribereños in the Peruvian Amazon who hunt bushmeat in order to feed their families. Indigenous Africans who turned to poaching for food and/or income.

But when locals are given a financial stake in the success of the tourism industry, they come to see the preservation of natural resources as the key to their own family’s sustainable future. The forest becomes their forest. The animals who inhabit the Serengeti become theirs to protect. Educating their children about the importance of conservation becomes a priority. Conserving ancient cultural traditions, such as basket weaving or traditional music and dance, becomes an opportunity rather than an obligation.

Community tourism helps conserve nature

4. It Contributes to the Development of Local Infrastructure

When more individual members of a community begin to thrive, their income is often invested back into the community. They spend more money at local businesses. They pay more local taxes. And when the local government’s tourism development is planned properly, this leads to an ongoing investment in the development of local infrastructure.

One of the greatest examples of this principle in action is in Rwanda. There, Edwin Sabuhoro, former game warden at Volcanoes National Park, founded Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. This entertaining introduction to Rwanda’s traditional cultures provides alternative employment opportunities for former poachers. It’s part of a larger community development strategy that includes education and conservation initiatives.

The program has been so successful in aiding mountain gorilla conservation, it inspired Rwanda President Paul Kagame to dedicate 5% of all tourism revenue from Volcanoes National Park to infrastructure development in the villages surrounded the park. There are new schools, new hospitals, better roads, and lots of local business start-ups transforming this impoverished region.

5. It Leads to Better Travel Experience for Everyone

Numerous studies have shown that when community tourism is developed properly, everyone wins. This includes the local people, local flora and fauna, local businesses, and the travelers themselves.

When locals are happy and being rewarded for their efforts, they’re warmer and more welcoming to visitors. When travel is more immersive and experience-focused rather than exploitative, the interactions are more genuine. You get a chance to see the local community for what it truly is, rather than some Disneyfied façade created to feel like something it’s not. You get a taste of the real indigenous culture, rather than a show put on for profit.

In short, community tourism simply provides a deeper, more engaging and inspiring experience. And we believe it’s the perfect cure for the woes that mass tourism tends to bring. –Bret Love

Community tourism helps everyone grow as individuals

BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 25 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.