What is community based tourism?

A community by definition implies individuals with some kind of collective responsibility, and the ability to make decisions by representative bodies.

Community based tourism is tourism in which local residents (often rural, poor and economically marginalised) invite tourists to visit their communities with the provision of overnight accommodation.

The residents earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees. At least part of the tourist income is set aside for projects which provide benefits to the community as a whole.

Community based tourism enables the tourist to discover local habitats and wildlife, and celebrates and respects traditional cultures, rituals and wisdom. The community will be aware of the commercial and social value placed on their natural and cultural heritage through tourism, and this will foster community based conservation of these resources.

The tourist accommodation and facilities will be of sufficient standard for Western visitors, albeit those expecting simple rural accommodation. The community will be required to have continuous access to a phone (which might be required for medical assistance) and daily access to email (which will be required by operators to confirm bookings).

CBT success story: Chalalán Ecolodge
The community may choose to partner with a private sector partner to provide capital, clients, marketing, tourist accommodation or other expertise. Subject to agreement to the ideals of supporting community development and conservation, and to planning the tourism development in partnership with the community, this partner may or may not own part of the tourism enterprise.

One example of a successful community project is the Chalalán Ecolodge in the Bolivian Amazon, a joint initiative of the rainforest community of San José de Uchupiamonas and Conservation International (CI) in Bolivia. Created in 1995 by a visionary group of San José villagers, the ecolodge provides employment opportunities through nature-based tourism, a much-needed economic alternative to logging. CI's goal at the outset of the Chalalán project was to create a viable ecolodge that was wholly owned and operated by local managers and staff. To accomplish this, CI trained villagers in a broad range of activities, including marketing and management, house keeping, food preparation and how to guide tours.

In February 2001, the community received full ownership of the lodge from CI. Today, 74 families receive regular direct economic benefits from employment and management of the ecolodge. Chalalán Ecolodge is already being successfully marketed through Responsible Travel.

Written by Justin Francis