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Going Local: An Introduction to Community-Based Tourism

As more and more travelers look for ways to see the planet without leaving a negative footprint, alternatives to mass tourism are growing in popularity. Referred to as ethical travel, responsible travel or sustainable travel, these new trends range from ecotourism and rural tourism to voluntourism and community-based tourism. All of these forms of tourism seek to offer ways of traveling with a greater purpose, keeping in mind not only the traveler’s own needs, but also those of the destination.

As its name suggests, community-based tourism aspires to benefit local communities, many of which are rural, poor and marginalized. These communities invite travelers to learn about their way of life and culture as well as the local habitat and wildlife. To be characterized as community-based, tourism development should be managed and owned by the community and at least part of the income should go to projects that benefit the community as a whole. At the individual level, community members make a living by selling handicrafts, cooking, cleaning, guiding or providing other services for tourists.

“Community-based tourism is the perfect two-way street because it both provides local employment and income for education, development and conservation initiatives, while at the same time giving the tourist a unique opportunity for cultural exchange and interaction with members of a remote tribe or community,” says Claire Southern of <a href=”,” target=”_blank”>,</a> one of the world’s leading responsible travel agents.

The idea is that community members will become aware of the value of their natural environment and cultural heritage if their income depends on it. This, in turn, encourages the community to become actively involved in the conservation of these resources. One success story is Posada Amazonas, a community-based lodge located on a private, communal reserve near Tambopata National Reserve in Peru. The lodge is owned by the community of Infierno and managed with Rainforest Expeditions. Its success persuaded the community to incorporate regulations on hunting, fishing with nets and cutting down trees. Still, not everything is perfect, as community members are now spending their hard-earned tourism income on chainsaws and rifles.

For travelers who want to get under the skin of a place, options are plentiful and diverse. They can choose between staying with a family in a traditional Kenyan village, experiencing Berber culture in a Sahara eco-camp, exploring life in the tropics at a Costa Rican eco-lodge, coaching sports in a Fijian school, touring a Soweto township or learning the Inuit way of life in the Canadian Arctic.

Local communities often join forces with public or private organizations for tourism development. In the Canadian territory of Nunavut, Nunavut Tourism supports small operators by offering incentives that make it more affordable to run a small business. Ailsa Lapp of Nunavut Tourism believes that such support is essential to the success of community-based initiatives and expects that more training and support will lead to an increase in the number of small operators in the communities.

A private partner usually provides what the communities lack, such as a starting capital, clients, marketing and tourist accommodation expertise. In order for a partly private project to be considered community-based, local people must receive a fair share of the profit as well as an important say in the project’s management.

Even in the current economic climate, community-based tourism is thriving in many places around the world. The projects of Nunavut Tourism see between 17,000 and 19,000 tourists each year, good numbers for a territory with a population of only 32,000. “We see a very bright future for community-based tourism,” Ailsa Lapp predicts. Claire Southern agrees with these positive prospects: “We already seek out authenticity – real experiences rather than fake culture packaged up for tourists – but travel in the future will go further. It will be about the appreciation of local distinctiveness, the idiosyncrasies and the detail, the things that make a place unique and special.”

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