If you put “Community-based tourism” into Google, it will return 310,000 results in 0.37 seconds. It is an enduring concept, popular with academics, research students and the industry. For many Community-based Tourism (CBT) is the Holy Grail, capable of ensuring that communities benefit from tourism.
The Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) has the transition towards inclusive and sustainable economies as its core mission. The CBI defines CBT as “a niche market in which the community benefits directly from tourism revenues”. Perhaps inevitably, there are many definitions of CBT, the common characteristics are that they are owned and managed by the community, that the community as a whole benefits, not just the individuals who work in the enterprise.
In Kerala the Village Life Experiences are owned and operated by the community under the direction of the Destination Responsible Tourism Cell (DRTC), which co-ordinates tour planning. On average, 60% of the revenue reaches the community members participating in providing the tour, 10% goes to the Village Development Fund for wider community benefit, 10% goes to the DRTC to cover administration and operating expenses and 15% is paid as commission to tourism businesses when they sell the tours to visitors. Group size is limited to a maximum of 7 and a minimum of three. It is the 10% that goes to the Village Development Fund that defines the tour as CBT.
Responsible Travel, a company which sells a wide variety of tours, points out that the word community implies collective responsibility and community decision-making. In common with many academic studies and homestay providers, their definition includes an overnight stay, absent from the Village Life Experience. The core characteristic of CBT is that: “At least part of the tourist income is set aside for projects which provide benefits to the community as a whole.”
A paper I published with Rosa Santilli back in 2009, Community-based tourism: A success? is still being referenced. Our evidence suggested that the average bed occupancy achieved by CBT initiatives then was around 5% and that this is unsustainable. Many were still dependent on donor funding, having failed to find a sufficient market. We found only four successful CBT projects back in 2009. Obviously, models like the Village Life Experience have the advantage that they pay commission and sell through private sector accommodation providers and tour operators, and they don’t have to maintain accommodation.
Hopefully, the situation is better now. Sylvester Clauzel has just published The Caring Entrepreneur. After many years of fieldwork in the Caribbean, his reflections on what works, what doesn’t and why are as valuable as our research. CBT is diffiult and too often ends in failure we need more research and more reflections from practitioners. There are plenty of mistakes to make; we should try to avoid those already made by others – reflections and research can both assist us in avoid failure.