CBT: A real experience or just a roleplay?

Are you already familiar with the ‘Community Based Tourism’ (hereafter also referred to as CBT) phenomenon? The idea is actually really simple. So imagine, you are on holiday in Thailand. Of course you want to do make unforgettable experiences. Is there than anything better than really experiencing the authentic Thai local life and culture when visiting, or even having an overnight stay with a lovely host family? Agree? Then keep on reading!

But first of all, let me explain the main key word in my blog, which is authenticity. This word can have different meanings for everyone. However, in my blog, authenticity is perceived as that the touristic product is not only invented and created to meet the expectations of the tourist. It is something which is part of their way of life, a real experience (Goodwin & Santilli, 2009).

The dilemma of change

Thus, you may ask yourself now; what is actually the reason of writing this blog … I know, the whole idea of Community Based Tourism sounds great, benefits for everyone etcetera. However, we haven’t really considered the negative impacts yet. Did you know that there are massive arrivals of the so called “charter” tourists? These are the tourists who are not able to adapt to the local culture and demand Western amenities. Of course these massive arrivals are good for the income of the locals, but there’s also a downside(Anstrand, 2006) …

Occasionally it happens that the international tourists are not adjusting to the Thai local culture. To make this statement a bit more clear, a model has been developed by (Okazaki, 2008) to show the stages of the collaboration process between tourists and the CBT community. The first stage of the process is non-participation. This means that the tourists and the CBT members are not totally aware yet of their responsibilities and options. When they get to know each other and the culture better, the tourists and the community will express their opinions, norms and values. This can eventually either lead to partnership, control or delegated power.

But let us go a bit more in depth with the stage of ‘control’ – as this is where we in fact talk about. The norms and values of the Thai culture are adjusted to the Western tourists in order to keep them satisfied. You can already guess what happens then … They lose their own way of life, their own authenticity, what we are in fact searching for during our stay. Can this situation of performing shows, as if they were ‘real life’, then be considered as playing a roleplay?

Besides the change which can happen because the local community wants to keep the tourists satisfied, it can also be that they have observed the way of life of the Western people and they are adjusting to that. They are then doing this in order to make their life easier. Take for example working on the land. The western people are using many different machines for this hard work. Imagine when you have to do this all day, using your hands, while the temperature is reaching up to 35 degrees. We wouldn’t like this, right? So wouldn’t they, so they want to use machines as well.


Homestay families in Thailand using electric machines for their work on the land.

After considering these factors, the dilemma of change comes to mind; we, as Western/International tourists, want to have this ultimate authentic experience, we actually want to see them using their old-fashioned materials while they are working on the land.

But, who are we to say that they can’t

change because we want to have the authentic experience?

Curious yet where this case happened? I will give you an example in the next paragraph.

A case study example: Ban Talae Nok

Ban Talae Nok is a village situated in Ranong Province, Thailand. It was one of the areas affected by the tsunami, which is also the reason of offering this programme. The tourists are seen as their source of income, to rebuilt their community.

Therefore, the organisation which is offering this program, called ‘Andaman Discoveries’, reflects on CBT as a sustainable source of income. In this way they won’t lose their traditions and culture. At least.. that’s what they say. On their website they try to attract tourist with slogans such as “experience the real Thailand” and “untouched Thailand”. This might catch your attention, but is this really true or is it just used to make you curious and visit this area?

An observation study has shown in fact most rituals, festivals, their way of life, etcetera are turned into commodities. Since the tourists are seen as their source of income, they are actually willing to adjust to the wants and needs of the tourists. The culture has turned into so called “reconstructed ethnicity” (Anstrand, 2006).

An example is the mangrove restoration, which is one of the activities tourists can do during their stay. They have to plant trees in order to keep the mangrove alive. However, the villagers have not planted any trees themselves for years. It seems that they are providing these activities in order to make the tourists feel satisfied and valued (Dolezal, 2011). Is this the experience you want to have?

So; dilemma solved?

In my opinion it’s still quite difficult since, well; different people, different wants and needs. When it’s the main source of income for a community, I understand that they are wanting to change their way of life to meet the tourist expectations.

What we also sometimes forget is that culture is not static. It’s a dynamic concept and it is constantly developing (Burns, 2001). The fact that we are searching for this authentic experience also tells us that culture should be preserved and kept ‘untouched’ (Taylor, 2001).  This would again mean that we restrict the culture from developing further, which is quite hard to achieve due to the globalisation and of course, the influences of Western Cultures (Van der Duim, Peters, & Wearing, 2005).

Referring back to the title of my blog: A real experience or just a roleplay? I hope you can form your own opinion on this topic now and I am more then looking forward to hear some experiences from your side.


List of references:

Anstrand, M. (2006). Community based tourism and socio-culture aspects relating to tourism.

Burns, P. (2001). Brief Encounters: Culture, tourism and the local-global nexus. In S. Wahab, & C. Cooper, Tourism in the age of globalisation (pp. 290-305). Londen, UK: Routledge.

Dolezal, C. (2011). Community-Based tourism in Thailand: (Dis-)illusions of authenticity and the necessity for Dynamic Concepts and Power. ASEAS – Austrian Journal of South-East Asian studies, 4(1), 129-138.

Goodwin, H., & Santilli, R. (2009). Community Based Tourism: a success?

Okazaki, E. (2008). A community based Tourism model: Its conception and use . Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

Taylor, J. (2001). Authenticiy and sincerity in tourism. Annals of Tourism Research(28(1)), pp. 7-26.

Van der Duim, R., Peters, K., & Wearing, S. (2005). Planning host and guest interactions: Moving beyond the empty meeting ground in African encounters. Current issues in Tourism, pp. 286-305.


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