Tourism is about people. Community-based tourism, like its name implies, is when local people within a destination are consulted in tourism development and then given an opportunity to showcase what they have and gain income whilst doing so.
Not only does this build the local economy within that destination, it is also a major boost to sustainability and could become the backbone to community pride, if well managed.
Here are five top reasons why community-based tourism is important:
- The community takes ownership of the tourism within their areas. Jobs are generated in various roles. This not only provides income for the community but creates a great sense of pride within the community. Jobs can vary from tour guides, hosts, transporters and craft producers. The list of jobs is endless. When I travel, some of my best stories and laughs have been shared with taxi drivers. They have often been my first point of contact and they will tell you the best places to eat, to shop, to stay and so forth because they know the area well.
- The local community help increase awareness about the community and their way of life. Recently I wrote about Zimbabwe and its culture. Each area in Zimbabwe has a unique cultural footprint and the local people will be able to share the rich history and culture of an area. What is fascinating about Zimbabwe, much like any other destination elsewhere, is that every name has a story behind it. Places such as Dzivaresekwa, Karoi and Bulawayo have rich, deep history waiting to be explored and the story is best told by the local community.
- Community-based tourism provides a win-win solution. The tourists can gain a truly authentic experience whilst the community’s standards of living are raised. For example, much of the traditional dancing we see when we visit resorts is staged, however, through community-based tourism, visitors can get a “behind-the-scenes” experience of why the dance, for example, is being done, when it is performed and the meaning behind it all. All of this adds to a rich cultural tourism experience and a preservation of culture by the locals.
- Through community-based tourism, sustainability can be achieved. This type of tourism means that the local community will be educated on how to be “good” hosts and the benefits of such. In addition to that, the local community also learn how to take care of their environment and preserve what they own. In this way, environmental protection and cultural conservation are all preserved. The local people are the best “tourism ambassadors”. With understanding, they will appreciate why it is important to take care of their visitors and they will also directly reap the benefits of doing so.
- There are many communities that have gone unrecognised and community-based tourism brings in that attention and recognition to the local community. Backyard tourism can bring these communities to the fore so that they can showcase what they have. There are so many undiscovered and unexplored places. The local people know these places and are able to make them meaningful. An example is Tsindi Ruins. Very few people are aware that just off the Harare-Mutare highway in Marondera, is the Tsindi Ruins. Its first occupation is believed to have been in the 13th century – occupied by the Nhowe people under Chief Mangwende. Tsindi Ruins is similar in structure to Great Zimbabwe and is a miniature size of the monument.
Let us embark on our domestic tourism journey with these points in mind. As I said at the beginning, tourism is about the people, both the people who experience it and the people who create the experience.
Mazwi Shamu is a teacher and travel and tourism consultant and blogger. She can be reached on 0712893354 or [email protected]