After four years, ITB Berlin returned in person and on the Green Stage, for the Sustainable Destination Track, it did it by going back to the grassroots level.
At the last edition in 2019, we saw indigenous people on stage presenting themselves and their cultural traditions during the first seminar at the ITB Berlin dedicated to Indigenous Tourism, which I reported on in my article at the time.
1. Back to grassroots
This year, the session ‘Authentic Indigenous and Community-Based Tourism Experiences’ brought five Community-Based Tourism (CBT) projects from around the world to present their positive impacts on their culture and the environment.
Community members from Madhya Pradesh – India, Sweden, Uzbekistan, Ecuador and Rwanda, stood on stage creating a colourful panel of global reach.
I had the privilege to moderate the wonderful panel of local experts and community-based tourism pioneers and facilitate their connection with the bigger audience.
In fact, although interest in CBT is growing and indigenous tourism has been highlighted as one of the new trends for 2023 by many experts and reports, most tourists still struggle to find information about it.
2. Adding knowledge to awareness
The examples shared from the passionate voices of the protagonists gave substance and tangible proof to what we already knew: that CBT is a great way to preserve and experience unknown cultural traditions and a way to discover the natural environment from the local perspective, with them, while contributing to their sustainable development journey.
Most importantly, we had the chance to hear what responsible tourism means to them in practice and how it has changed their life and the life of their community.
The room was packed with attentive and curious listeners and great knowledge was shared, and we would like to briefly report on the stories we heard on 7th March in Berlin.
3. Messages from the field
Vinita Rashinkar – from Blue Brick PR at the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board, India – showed us that there are many hidden indigenous cultures in the remote Indian state which, with thousands of years of history, are among the oldest on the planet.
The rural tourism project she is involved with talks about community participation and women empowerment, and it is already active in 60 of the 100 villages the project will reach.
The project registered an increased interest during the Covid-19 pandemic when domestic tourists went exploring new corners of the country, especially the younger generations due to their renewed sense of spirituality.
Nils Torbjörn Nutti – founder at Sámi Eco Adventure, Sweden – is the youngest son of a reindeer herder family, who has been working full time with his animals since 1990.
Indigenous communities, the ones that live in a close relationship with nature and depend directly on it for their subsistence, are the most affected by climate change, whose effects they have already started experiencing.
Nils reminded us how important is to see that connection with nature ‘where we all come from’ he says, because ‘if we don’t’, he continues, ‘then it becomes difficult to understand why we should save it, and where are our limits’.
Sámi Eco Adventure has been awarded a ToDo! Award this year for protecting their tradition in the face of climate change and putting tourism at the service of their indigenous communities.
Sherzod Norbekov – Director and Founder at Responsible Travel LLC and Nuratau CBT project, Uzbekistan – talked about how the CBT way of doing tourism, in the hands of the local community members, has helped to better the local infrastructure and the quality of life of the population. He described how they turned the economic advantage obtained through eco-tourism activities into a tool for sustainable development, for which they won a ToDo Award for socially responsible tourism. However, Nuratau is also creating a virtuous cycle for their own culture.
Uzbekistan’s culture does not only exist in Samarkand and in other internationally renowned cultural spots but also in the local villages within their daily traditions and customs. At the same time, tourism is helping them to preserve their own culture by raising, in their eyes, the value that their culture represents, and by sharing it with their visitors they are learning how to nourish it and be proud of it.
With us on stagewas also Rolando Collaguazo, with more than 20 yearsof experience in community tourism, and who is today involved in sales and management at Yunguilla Community project, Ecuador, in the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve near Quito.
Rolando showed us what can be achieved when the local community is aware, technically prepared and passionately engaged with the mission of preserving and conserving the biodiversity of their natural resources and land. Their conservation journey started in 1995, while their journey in responsible tourism dates back to 1998.
Today the projects involve more than 50 indigenous families looking after an area of 8,000 hectares of forest, home to endemic species and a huge variety of fauna and flora species, such as orchids and the Andean bear.
Yungilla is the first indigenous community in Ecuador certified by TourCert and today is a role model for other rural communities in the country that are learning how to re-establish a balanced and healthy coexistence with the natural environment.
Community-Based Tourism is an opportunity for Yunguilla community members to accompany and complement the intense work in education and natural conservation that the community carries out, with the support of research and academic centres and national and international partners and volunteers.
Learning to protect their forest and taking the lead in their own development – through tourism as well – has also had a big positive impact on the new generations. They are now coming back home, after completing their university studies, to invest their knowledge and skills to support their community and their land, so that they can both continue to thrive harmoniously.
Last but not least, from Rwanda, Greg Bagunzi brought us the stories of Red Rock Initiatives, established in 2013 with the main goal of making the communities the beneficiaries of tourism.
In a country where tourism mainly happens in the protected areas and National Parks, leaving the local communities in the background, Red Rocks brings visitors directly to the local villages to meet the local women, learn how to cook, dance and create traditional baskets, while singing the uplifting notes of the traditional songs during the banana beer making process.
They have initiated a series of programmes that link conservation and community tourism to reach sustainable development, such as organic farming, beekeeping projects and tree planting activities, conducting crucial educational work with community members while also preserving the local environment and contributing to reforestation.
Today, Red Rocks is a pioneer in CBT in the country and it has inspired many other grassroots projects to become a reality and today, thanks to them as well, there are many more projects that are slowly becoming visible.
Over the years, parallel to their tourism activities – whose income goes entirely to the community members – the project has created job opportunities by supporting skills development schemes, especially for young people and women, who are nowadays organised into cooperatives – happy and empowered.
4. Planting healthy seeds
Coming back to the ITB Berlin this year was incredible and an important seed was planted when CBT was brought into the agenda.
But most crucially, it was essential to give the audience the opportunity to realise that authentic community experiences can only happen with them and that talking about CBT should only happen when we give the microphoneto the communities themselves