Many of the world’s most beautiful resources exist in endangered habitats and vulnerable communities. Community-based ecotourism is a form of ecotourism that emphasizes the development of local communities and allows for local residents to have substantial control over, and involvement in, its development and management, and a major proportion of the benefits remain within the community. Community-based ecotourism should foster sustainable use and collective responsibility, but it also embraces individual initiatives within the community.1
With this form of ecotourism, local residents share the environment and their way of life with visitors, while increasing local income and building local economies. By sharing activities such as festivals, homestays, and the production of artisan goods, community-based tourism allows communities to participate in the modern global economy while cultivating a sustainable source of income and maintaining their way of life. A successful model of community-based tourism works with existing community initiatives, utilizes community leaders, and seeks to employ local residents so that income generated from tourism stays in the community and maximizes local economic benefits.
Although ecotourism often promises community members improved livelihoods and a source of employment, irresponsible tourism practices can exhaust natural resources and exploit local communities. It is essential that approaches to community-based ecotourism projects be a part of a larger community development strategy and carefully planned with community members to ensure that desired outcomes are consistent with the community’s culture and heritage. In many ways, participants are not employees, but managers. Community-based tourism initiatives decrease poverty not only by increasing income but also by providing residents of rural communities with the tools and knowledge necessary for long-term critical thinking and decision-making. Tourism is no panacea; community-based ecotourism and responsible tourism should be part of wider sustainable development strategies.
Identity: Respect and preserve all the characteristics of the environment, help residents reclaim historical practices, revitalize productive activities, highlight the ethnic background of the population, and highlight the unique aspects of the locality, such as topography, climate, architecture, cuisine and handicrafts.
Roots and Customs: Highlight local cultural practices so that communities share their cultures and traditions with tourists with authenticity. Invaluable educational opportunities such as homestays and town-hall-style round of talks are encouraged so that tourists and local community members can mutually share cultural aspects such as food, music, folklore, and goods. Both visitor and community cultures will always be treated with appreciation and respect.
Ecological Consciousness and Harmony: Seek to conserve natural ecosystems and cultures by being a part of a larger development plan. All plans have a low impact on the local environment while highlighting the unique aspects of the locality, such as topography, climate, and architecture. The conservation of nature and rigorous concern with the environment influence the development of infrastructure for community-based ecotourism activities (i.e. building houses, roads, showers, etc.).
Local Control: Local control of the community-based ecotourism industry. Local leadership leads plans and encourages clear and transparent decision-making. Community members actively make decisions on strategies and acceptable levels of tourism based upon the community’s culture, heritage and vision. Strategies also equip local communities with the tools and knowledge necessary for decision-making, and to build effective structures to enable the community to influence, manage and benefit from ecotourism development and practice.
Sustainable Economic Development: Stimulate the local economy by generating income through the sustainable use of natural resources. All plans seek to ensure that the local population has an equitable share in benefits.
1 Dr. Richard Denman, The Tourism Company, Guidelines for community-based ecotourism development, WWF, July 2001, p 2. Some further general characteristics of ecotourism have been identified by UNEP and the World Tourism Organization as:
- involving appreciation not only of nature, but also of indigenous cultures prevailing in natural areas, as part of the visitor experience
- containing education and interpretation as part of the tourist offer
- generally, but not exclusively, organized for small groups by small, specialized and locally owned businesses (while recognizing that foreign operators also market and operate ecotourism)
- minimizing negative impacts on the natural and sociocultural environment
- supporting the protection of natural areas by generating economic benefits for the managers of natural areas
- providing alternative income and employment for local communities