Community Involvement: Why is it actually so important?

Some say that the critical key success factors to a thriving community based tourism (CBT) program is the involvement of the local community in the tourism planning. Argumenting that the community members themselves are the heart of community based tourism. However, why is this so? And what is the actual importance of involving the local community in tourism development? The list is endless. In my blog I will provide you with the answer to the question of why community involvement is so essential in community based tourism. But not to worry, this blog won’t contain the whole (and therefore endless) list of reasons.

But first, the question of ‘How is the local community involved?

First of all, it is fundamental to attain knowledge on how community members can be involved in community based tourism programs, as it entails more than you might think. Logically, the local community partake in activities which are in direct relation to the tourists that visit the community. These activities involve the homestays, sharing heritage and local wisdom through interactive activities, providing food and drinks as well as transportation in and outside the community (Thammajinda, 2013).

Nevertheless, the value of community involvement does not simply stop there. According to .. Community based tourism is defined as ‘A type of tourism run by and for the local community’ (Prabhakarana, Naira & Ramachandranb, 2014). This means that the local community does not only partake in the operating activities, but are also meant to be included in the overall management and planning of a community based tourism program. According to numerous studies, rather than implementing a top-down approach, a bottom-up approach has proven to be the most successful (Dunn, 2007). The issue with a top-down approach is that has previously failed to deliver benefits, especially to the communities. The failure to deliver benefits was mainly due to the fact that tour operators wanted to look at the bigger picture of community based tourism, but overlooked the minor but yet essential details (Dunn, 2007). A great method of a bottom-up approach in community based tourism is to engage community members in capacity building workshops and hands-on training (Theerapappisit, 2012).

To give you an illustration of a commendable community involvement approach. REST (Responsible Ecological Social Tours) is an organisation which works closely with communities that participate in community based tourism. Although REST plays as an influential guide for the communities, the ultimate objectives for the CBT programs are set by the community members themselves. The community members join along on fieldtrips to communities with an already established community based tourism program in order for them to get inspired to establish their own unique tour (Dunn, 2007).

But why is this a commendable community involvement approach?

The answer: ‘Why is community involvement so important?’

Now coming to the final answer of why community involvement is so essential to a successful community based tourism program. It is neccessary to understand the linkages between several community based tourism concepts. One of the major aims of community involvement is to stimulate empowerment of the community members. In turn, the empowerment contributes to the management and preservation of the existing resources of the community. This right here is very much crucial, as the resources form the heart of how communities live and continue to live (Satarat, 2012).

Additionally, the local community also need to be empowered to manage tourism in their own community so negative impacts on the culture, environment and social spirit of the communities are minimized as much as possible (Bureekul, 2000). Because in the end, who knows the social and environmental needs better than the communities themselves? Exactly, nobody. Therefore, the communities should be involved in any decision could possibly influence them (Kontogeorgopoulos, Churyen & Duangsaeng, 2014).

In addition, we also all know by now that people learn most effectively by simply doing. So indeed, community involvement also contributes to the learning process of community members. By involving the community to have active voice in the matter, the old mindset and behaviour of the community members changes for the better (Asian Center for Tourism Planning and Poverty Reduction, n.d). In what way do their mindset and behaviour change? Well, in another example from the Leeled community in the previous years before developing a community based tourism program, there was a lot of littering in the community. Logically, this has an negative impact of the natural area and therefore also natural resources of the community. REST worked together with the Leeled community to set up a waste management program and a waste bank in order to minimize the littering. In the meanwhile, the community learned what the actual impacts of littering are in the long-term. Now, every community member has learned to reduce, re-use and recycle, leaving no litter anymore on the ground (Dunn, 2007).

As a side impact, community involvement also allows for a better and smooth partnership between the community, tour operators and/or NGO (non governmental organisation) (Asian Center For Tourism Planning and Poverty Reduction, n.d.). This has again also to do a lot with the empowerment of the community. If the community members are being listened too, and their wishes (but also culture and heritage!) are respected, the community will recognize that they matter. What will be influenced, is an open attitude towards outsiders, but not only that, also their skills and knowledge can be used to its full capacity. Therefore, this can be linked again to a better management and preservation of the community’s resources (Kontogeorgopoulos, Churyen & Duangsaeng, 2014).

Figure 1: Linkages of community involvement and the benefits

What do I actually think?

Personally, I am strongly convinced that community based tourism revolves around community involvement. The sharing of unique cultural traditions and customs of the communities is what makes community based tourism so special. And as mentioned in the introduction of this blog, communities are the heart is community based tourism and therefore should have a vital role in every decision making in the tourism development that happens in their community. The benefits, such as the empowerment of the community, the positive change in behaviour and mindset, management and preservation of resources and better partnerships are all results of community involvement. But for each unique community, there are also many more benefits than just the ones mentioned in this blog.

Do you know some additional benefits of community involvement in community based tourism?

Reference list

Asian Center For Tourism Planning and Poverty Reduction (n.d.) Capacity Building Program on “Community Based Tourism: Hospitality Management”.

Bureekul, T. (2000). Public participation in Environmental Management in Thailand. NIDA
Development Journal, 40(4), p. 173-191.

Dunn, S. (2007) Toward Empowerment: Women and Community Based tourism in Thailand.
(Master’s thesis, University of Oregon). Retrieved from https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/6122/Susan_Dunn.pdf

Kontogeorgopoulos, N., Churyen, A. & Duangsaeng, V. (2014) Success Factors in Community-
Based Tourism in Thailand: The Role of Luck, External Support, and Local Leadership. Tourism Planning & Development, 11(1)

Polladach Theerapappisit (2012). The Bottom-Up Approach of Community-Based Ethnic
Tourism: A Case Study in Chiang Rai, Strategies for Tourism Industry – Micro and Macro Perspectives, Dr. Murat Kasimoglu (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-51-0566-4, InTech, Available from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/strategies-for- tourism-industry-micro-and-macro-perspectives/the-bottom-up-approach-of-community-based-ethnic-tourism- a-case-study-in-chiang-rai

Satarat, N. (2012) Sustainable Management of Community-Based Tourism in Thailand. (Phd
dissertation, School of Public Administration. Retrieved from http://libdcms.nida.ac.th/thesis6/2010/b166706.pdf

Prabhakarana,S., Naira,V. & Ramachandranb, S. (2014) Community participation in rural tourism:
Towards a conceptual framework. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 144, p. 290 – 295.

Thammajinda, R. (2013) Community participation and social capital in tourism planning and
management in a Thai context. (Doctor’s Thesis, Lincoln University). Retrieved from https://researcharchive.lincoln.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10182/5423/thammajinda_phd.pdf?sequence=4

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