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Local culture is a common CBT attraction

Definition, Characteristics, Principles, and Examples of Community-Based Tourism (CBT)

By David Okul

By definition, a community refers to a group of people with shared responsibilities and the tendency of making decisions by representative bodies.

CBT definition is diverse as various quarters define the term differently. A common feature in the definitions is the observation that travelers connect with the local communities.

Silvica defines CBT (Community-Based Tourism) as a facet of sustainable tourism that is dependent on resources that are either owned or managed by the community or those that are owned by communal stakeholders. It also focuses on tourism activities carried out by individuals within a community which provide returns to the community for the sustainable use of communal resources.

Characteristics of a Functioning Community-Based Tourism Organizations

To further enhance CBT definition, we have identified 4 main characteristics of community-based tourism organizations, initiatives, or enterprises: 

  1. They are led and owned by the community. This means that local people play a leading role in the enterprise and the assets belong to the community. The resources can therefore not be sold off for private financial gains. This also means that their boards are accountable to the communities, mainly because the directors are representatives of the communities;
  2. They are self-sustaining and able to generate profits to be reinvested and/or distributed among the community. Their financial stability arises from their business practice. Even if they receive support from a third party at the beginning, they can sustain themselves after a while;
  3. They are sustainable which means that they equally tackle environmental and social problems in their area. They are also called social enterprises as they can generate many jobs in the community. They can also return benefits to the community beyond creating direct employment for individuals. For instance, they can offer scholarships or subsidized health care.
  4. Have some cultural heritage. The main selling point of CBT is that it allows visitors to immerse themselves in unique cultural experiences of the hosts

Other characteristics of Community-Based Tourism Enterprises are that they:

  1. Allow people to develop as economic decision-makers;
  2. Can devise strategies to cope with competition and can be developed as part of the local development plan, including hybrid models such as collaboration between governments or NGOs with citizens;
  3. Add value to agricultural produce;
  4. Allocate surplus to community projects and other spin-off community enterprises; and,
  5. Provide purposeful employment and cash income for marginalized individuals and actively engage citizens.

Products offered by CBT

Activities for a CBTO will depend on the cultural and natural assets that are at the disposal of the community. Products offered by CBTO can be based on cultural-social resources, natural resources, and others.

Cultural-Social Resource

Cultural resources could be tangible and non-tangible

  • Tangible cultural resources include things like ancient settlements, rock art, historical buildings, monuments, birthplaces of famous people, religious buildings, cemeteries, painting, traditional instruments, jewelry, and various arts and craft
  • Intangible cultural resources include religion, language, rituals, customs, festivals, games, dances, folklore, cooking, and etymology

Natural Resources

They could be based on landforms, biodiversity, and knowledge

  • Landforms attractions include features such as lakes, rivers, forests, springs, volcanos, nature trails, conservancies, protected areas, caves, mountains, orchards, etc.
  • Biodiversity attraction includes wildlife, rare species, plants, and fishes
  • Knowledge of natural resources includes special info on animals and special ways of making dishes.

Other CBT resources

There are various other ways in which CBT can create innovative products. For instance, nightlife, ballooning, boating, rock climbing, mountain biking, horse riding, water slides, malls, casinos, kayaking, etc. Most of the activities are based on recreation and entertainment facilities.

CBT Community involvement and participation is an important principle for success
A women led CBTO meeting in Coastal Kenya

Principles of Community-Based Tourism

Silvica has identified 10 principles for community-based tourism based on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) CBT standards. These principles include:

  1. Community Involvement & Participation
  2. Partnerships with Relevant Stakeholders
  3. Ensuring that the CBTO complies with the legal requirements of its jurisdiction
  4. Social Well–Being and Human Dignity
  5. Encouraging Fair and Transparent Benefit Sharing Mechanism
  6. Promoting Linkages to the Local Economy
  7. Practicing Respect to the Local Culture and Traditions
  8. Promoting Natural Resource Management and sustainable consumption and production (SCP) principles
  9. Enhancing the Quality of Visitors Experience
  10. Promoting Good Governance, Transparency, and Accountability

Ideally, existing, and emerging CBTs should base their operations around the 10 principles that would promote the development of sustainable community-based tourism organizations.

Examples of Community-based Tourism

Based on the CBT definition, there are various examples of community-based tourism:

Promote CBTIs in your travel

From CBT definition, community involvement is vital. On the surface, community-based tourism tends to encourage the connection between the traveler and the host. But it has additional benefits including promoting the conservation of culture and the environment. Additionally, it provides income opportunities for the community members. So, in your next travel, support community-based tourism projects near you.

David Okul is an 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 view in this blog are personal and do not represent the organizations that he is associated with.