Community-based tourism: failing to deliver?

Community-based tourism was a popular intervention during the 'ecotourism' boom of the 1990s. It is now being suggested as a form of pro-poor tourism. However, few projects have generated sufficient benefits to either provide incentives for conservation - the objective of ecotourism - or contribute to local poverty reduction.

Community-based tourism initiatives aim to increase local people's involvement in tourism. They are mainly small-scale (campsites, guesthouses, craft-markets, local excursions) although can include partnerships with the private sector. Many suffer from being too isolated from the tourism market and are unsustainable without external support.

Conservationists and development professionals have tried to promote community-based tourism (CBT) since the 1970s. They identify tourism as an economic opportunity that can raise living standards, particularly in poor rural or marginal areas - for example beyond the Kathmandu valley in Nepal; in the north of Palawan, the Philippines' last frontier; in remote rural areas in Kunming province and Szechuan province, China. Most initiatives have failed, however.

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism at the University of Greenwich, UK, is evaluating CBT projects around the world and reviewing published and 'grey' (unpublished) literature on CBT. Preliminary findings from this research suggest several reasons why CBT projects fail:

CBT projects should provide:

The review suggests that the best way to achieve this is for poor communities to engage with the private sector in locations with a significant numbers of tourists. This creates the commercial opportunities that are necessary for poor people to earn incomes from tourism.

id21 Research Highlight: 25 May 2006

Further Information:
Harold Goodwin

Contact the contributor: harold@haroldgoodwin.info

Other related links:
The Responsible Tourism Partnership

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism

Pro-Poor Tourism

'Choosing a middleman - the role of intermediaries in community tourism'

'Tourism in Nepal'

'Does community-based ecotourism really benefit rural people in Tanzania?'

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