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A women led CBTO meeting in Coastal Kenya

CBT Community Involvement and Participation

By David Okul

Generally, community-based tourism (CBT) involves communities in controlling, managing, and developing their tourism industry whereby tourists and travelers can experience the community’s way of life and consider the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the destination they are visiting.

CBT has been used to describe a broad range of different tourism models. However, it usually refers to tourism that involves community participation and aims at generating benefits for local communities in the developing world by allowing tourists to visit these communities and learn about their culture and the local environment. Community participation in the tourism initiative is central to all definitions, ranging from cooperatives or individually owned and managed businesses, to joint ventures between the community and the private sector.

The two most significant criteria used in the academic definition of CBT are community ownership/management and community benefit

Local culture is a common CBT attraction

CBT Community Involvement is Lacking

In theory, community-based tourism organizations (CBTO) must consult and involve the community in decision-making processes on tourism planning and management that affect their livelihood directly. However, in many cases, the genuine CBT community involvement has been minimal in most parts of Africa. This has been cited as a hindrance to the development of CBT in Africa as many problems associated with community-based tourism can be attributed to the lack of proper participation of the community.

Community involvement and participation in CBT is important because:

  1. Local communities can take part in identifying resources that would be beneficial to tourism.
  2. The success of tourism relies on the goodwill and cooperation of local people because they are part of the tourism product.
  3. Wider participation ensures that the CBT program can benefit from the skills and experience of a broader range of community members.

How are CBT community involvement and participation achieved?

  1. Promote democracy in the running of the CBT activities. This can vary in different cultures but ensuring that the voice of each member/ stakeholder is valued is a good starting point.
  2. Develop a mission statement with the community members to promote community involvement and participation in the CBT initiative. Generally, a mission statement gives purpose to the organization by specifying why the organization exists.
  3. Set the direction for organizational management right from the establishment stage, determining who takes responsibility for the CBT, which members should participate, and who will monitor and audit the CBT. This is important because CBT activities rely on community resources.
  4. Adopt a clear management structure to ensure that the roles of each post for the CBT should be clearly defined to avoid conflict of interest and overlapping responsibilities.
  5. The CBT management and members should promote capacity building. The leadership and partners of CBTOs should often identify the areas where their organizations need increased capacities and implement training/coaching on them. This is more effective if they are members of civil society organizations
  6. Develop a vision statement that promotes community involvement. A vision statement is informed by your mission statement as it describes what the CBTO aspires to be in the future. Defining your vision provides a chance for stakeholders to identify what their intrinsic expectations are and think about how these might be met through joint efforts. A series of community workshops or meetings can be effective to ensure participatory vision development.  
  7. Include activities within its local culture in its tourism activities. These could include food, ornaments, and/or cultural events. This type of activity would promote community involvement and participation as the members would have a sense of ownership.
  8. Hold regular meetings to update CBTO members and community members on the CBTO’s progress and plans for the future. Ideally, CBTO members should meet at least once a month, and the community should be updated at least quarterly.  Each CBTO member should be aware of the financial health and projections for the CBTO.
  9. Ensure that CBTO members and the community are actively involved (in terms of decision making) in the CBTO activities, especially for new activities.
  10. Provide local communities with sufficient information about the tourism industry to be able to make informed decisions regarding how their future might be impacted. Local people should be willing to participate in tourism and be aware of the potential impacts as well as learn about mechanisms to manage the impacts from the very beginning.
  11. The role of the community and the CBTO members should be identified in the CBTO’s documentation such as Business plans, Stakeholder engagement plans, and business plans.

Not as Easy as it may sound

CBT community involvement and participation may appear easy on paper. However, implementing these in a CBT venture or organization may prove a challenge. For starters, most CBTOs often have internal wrangles and are awash with vices such as corruption. Furthermore, studies have shown that participation is limited by the barriers of lack of tourism knowledge, limited finance, peripherality, the marginalization of women, and elite domination. Regardless, stakeholders need to ensure genuine community involvement for a chance of success in any CBT venture.

David Okul is a Kenyan environmental management professional with over 10 years experience on donor projects, conservation, forestry, ecotourism, and community-based natural resources management. When not working on  environmental projects, I spend my time writing for Silvica on a variety of topics. The views in this blog are personal and do not represent the organizations that he is associated with.