Community-based tourism: While community-based tourism has positive impacts on the environment and is a contributor to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals until the policy framework is in place, especially in the developing nations, any development made in this direction is considered as “baby steps”.
Tourism is one sector which is responsible for putting a heavy load on the environment and its sustainability. According to an estimate by the United Nations Environment Program, tourism single-handedly would contribute to an increase of 154% in energy consumption, 131% in greenhouse gas emissions, 152% in water consumption and 251% in solid waste disposal, by 2050. Tourism activities do not just have a toll on the local environment, contribute to soil erosion, and interfere with the ecosystem, but the stakeholders are responsible for concentrating the activities at certain places.
Community-based tourism (CBT), on the other hand, is a shift from the orthodox and is a chance for rural and marginalised communities to make a living. The most important aspect of the community-based excursion is its affiliation with sustainability and organic living. This includes off-the-grid communities such as indigenous tribes or groups at a place, tribal or rural people or other self-sustaining communities. A member of the community hosts the guests at the native place/village and the tourists get to experience the lives of these communities, in the most natural set-up.
How community-based tourism is different?
While exotic tourist destinations and popular resorts and staying properties boast of providing the best facilities and world cuisines, community-based hosts offer locally sourced foods. This takes some stress off the planet and helps reduce the carbon footprint. Transportation of food ingredients from one place to another is an extensive process and several supply-chain corporations thrive on the whole idea. However, it involves an equally extensive amount of fuel and cost to make the system run. Knowingly or unknowingly, tourists add to this process and food, produced in one location is often transported and processed at a different location, while the end product is delivered at a completely different one. Food items such as certain types of cheeses, fruits, dry fruits, dairy and poultry are even transported internationally because the climate at the destination does not support the growth of such ingredients.
Community-based tourism stands apart here. It not only generates employment opportunities for the financially weaker sections of society, but it also does not require cross-continent food transportation.
Need for stricter policies to make CBT, the first choice
According to the authors of Why Community-Based Tourism and Rural Tourism in Developing and Developed Nations are Treated Differently? A Review, a lack of policy direction supporting community tourism has been identified as a significant limitation for CBT destinations worldwide, including places like Tanzania, Kenya, and Indonesia. This problem is not limited to developing nations but also to some remote areas in developed countries. Unfortunately, leaders often view such areas as unimportant and secondary for immediate action, leading to policy actions that are often unaligned with the needs and priorities of these communities.
Despite these challenges, there have been notable efforts by governments in developed nations to boost economies and revitalize rural areas through programs and policies that have had a positive effect on community tourism initiatives. For instance, Australia has attempted to close the economic and quality-of-life gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens through policies aimed at economic support and the provision of livelihood opportunities. Similarly, many rural tourism initiatives in developed nations benefit from national or regional funds to start up community-based initiatives, according to the research paper.
In Europe, for example, new policies for rural areas have been implemented to achieve a balance between traditional agriculture and nature preservation, as well as to revitalize rural and economically depressed areas. Most European Union (EU) members’ national policies are often supplemented by regional policies for the revitalization of rural areas and territorial cohesion between core and ‘disadvantaged’ areas in the periphery. The research paper explains, while there are still many challenges to be overcome, these efforts by governments provide hope and inspiration for a brighter future for community tourism worldwide.
How CBT contributes to SDG goals
In developing countries, tourism has long been viewed as a key driver of sustainable development for, with a particular focus on its potential to reduce poverty and conserve the natural environment. Community-based Tourism homestays’ capacity to Advance the Sustainable Development Goals: a holistic Sustainable Livelihood Perspective, published by Elsevier in Tourism Management Perspectives in December 2020 gives insight in this direction. According to the authors of the paper, while tourism’s negative impacts are also acknowledged, the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified tourism as crucial to achieving the SDGs, leading to the declaration of the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Within the context of the SDGs, community-based tourism (CBT) has been shown to contribute to SDG1, No Poverty and SDG11, Sustainable Cities and Communities by creating jobs, improving local economic connections, empowering communities, and enhancing local infrastructure.
However, it is essential to critically assess and evaluate assumptions about tourism’s positive contributions to sustainability. Therefore, a holistic approach is necessary to understand the true capacity of CBT to advance SDG1 and SDG11 by considering both costs and benefits in a broader livelihood context.
While community-based tourism has positive impacts on the environment and is a contributor to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals until the policy framework is in place, especially in the developing nations, any development made in this direction is considered as “baby steps”.