Community-Based Tourism: What Is It and How to Enjoy This Experience

Have you ever wondered how you could make your travels more connected, responsible, and enriching? The answer might lie in Community-Based Tourism, a way of…


Have you ever wondered how you could make your travels more connected, responsible, and enriching? The answer might lie in Community-Based Tourism, a way of traveling that redefines the experience by putting local communities at the forefront. But what exactly does it mean?

In this article, we’ll address the key issues travelers face when choosing meaningful, authentic, and sustainable experiences on their journeys.

What Is Community-Based Tourism?

CBT is a form of tourism planned, managed, and operated by the local community, allowing visitors to have a genuine immersion in the local culture and daily life. Unlike conventional tourism, where experiences can be manufactured, and profits often leave the visited communities, CBT ensures that the benefits of your time and money stay with the communities you visit.

In this type of tour, you might be invited to sit at the table of local families to share a meal made only with typical ingredients produced in nearby farms or learn traditional craft techniques directly from the source, passed down from generation to generation. This isn’t just tourism; it’s also cultural exchange and shared learning.

But CBT goes beyond simply providing a rich cultural experience. It also has a strong social impact, seeking sustainable development and a form of tourism that respects both people and the environment. As the host and manager of the activities, the community makes decisions about how tourism is organized, ensuring that the practices are sustainable and beneficial in the long term.

Suggested read: Amazing Places that can disappear in the next decades

How Community-Based Tourism Differentiates From Conventional Tourism

When planning our travels, we often encounter luxurious hotels, mass tours, and standardized itineraries that promise “the authentic local experience.” However, it offers us a different lens that brings us closer to the true essence of a place and its people. But how exactly does it differ from conventional tourism?

  1. Control and Management: While conventional tourism is often idealized and directed by large corporations or external entities, community-based tourism is managed by those whose stories are being shared – the community itself. This means that decisions on how tourism is conducted are made by those who directly feel its impact.
  2. Economic Benefits: In traditional tourism, financial benefits may leak out of the visited community, rarely reaching the pockets of the local population. Community-based tourism, conversely, ensures that the money spent by travelers stays in the community, supporting regional economic growth and self-sufficiency.
  3. Authenticity of Experiences: Conventional tourism often markets experiences designed for mass consumption, which can dilute cultural authenticity. Community-based tourism promotes real and meaningful encounters where travelers can participate in the community’s daily life, from preparing traditional foods to learning local crafts.
  4. Group Size: Conventional tourism usually favors larger groups, leading to overcrowding and wear on tourist sites. Community-based tourism prefers smaller groups to minimize environmental and social impact, providing a more intimate and less invasive experience.
  5. Environmental Impact: Large tourism ventures can have a significant impact on the environment. Community-based tourism, in its essence, seeks to be sustainable, with practices that preserve the natural environment for future generations.
  6. Relationship with the Visitor: In conventional tourism, the visitor is often seen as a customer. In community-based tourism, the visitor is a guest welcomed into the community with hospitality and mutual respect.

Through these distinctions, this approach to tourism challenges us to rethink our way of traveling. It’s not just an alternative way of exploring but a conscious choice that supports community empowerment and promotes a deeper and more respectful cultural exchange. By choosing CBT, we leave behind the role of mere spectators and become active participants in the narrative of a destination and its people.

How Community-Based Tourism Can Benefit the Local Community?

Local communities can benefit from a direct source of income, which can be transformative. Whether through homestays, tours guided by locals, or the sale of local handicrafts, this modality allows money to circulate within the community, strengthening the local economy, creating jobs, favoring the construction of infrastructure, and reducing local exodus.

Moreover, this type of tourism differs from conventional tourism in its tendency to lead to cultural homogenization. When the community has the autonomy to showcase its culture, it begins to value its identity. Traditions and customs are shared with pride and become an integral part of the tourist experience, helping to preserve them for future generations. This factor also helps to integrate socially and economically marginalized groups, such as women and ethnic minorities.

Community-based tourism also encourages sustainable practices that minimize environmental impact. Communities involved in this modality tend to protect their natural resources, which are the basis of their tourist attractions, promoting biodiversity conservation.

The entire community is strengthened when CBT initiatives are underway, and the success of these initiatives can serve as a model for others, inspiring change and adopting sustainable and ethical practices in tourism worldwide.

How to Find Community-Based Experiences and Projects

The true essence of Community-Based Tourism lies in its authenticity – the opportunity to live and breathe the local culture as a guest, not just as a distant visitor. But how can a traveler find these genuine experiences? Here are some tips to guide you on this quest:

  1. Dedicated Research: Begin with thorough research. Look for organizations specialized in community-based tourism or dedicated platforms connecting travelers with community experiences. Read reliable travel publications (like Yes, Summer!) and accounts from travelers participating in these programs.
  2. Check for Legitimacy: Seek signs that the organization is truly committed to the principles of community-based tourism. This includes transparency in revenue sharing, active conservation programs, and positive feedback from the host communities.
  3. Look for Seals and Certifications: Some community-based tourism experiences are certified by sustainable tourism organizations. These certifications can indicate that the community or the experience adheres to ethical and sustainable standards.
  4. Plan Ahead: Some of the best community-based tourism experiences require planning, as the number of visitors might be limited to ensure sustainability. Be sure to organize your trip well in advance to avoid disappointment.
  5. Support Small Operators: Consider booking directly with small local tourism operators or family-run accommodations rather than larger agencies. This approach can offer a more authentic experience and ensure your support directly benefits the community.

Connect With Hosts Volunteering With Worldpackers

A platform that makes it easier for travelers to connect with communities is Worldpackers. There are plenty of community-based opportunities there, from helping with an environmental project to teaching in local schools.

Using the coupon NATYBECATTINI, you get a 10-dollar discount on the membership, which lasts a year and allows you to participate in as many experiences as you want during this period.

This way, you ensure that your trip is not just any trip but an exchange of experiences that transforms both the traveler and the host community. Click here to learn more about Worldpackers!

Best Volunteering Opportunities Around the World

What is the impact of Community-Based Tourism on Environmental Preservation?

In contrast to mass tourism, which can lead to environmental degradation, community-based tourism promotes low-impact practices. This means smaller groups, lower resource consumption, and an emphasis on reducing the ecological footprint of visitors.

Many initiatives are directly linked to conservation projects. This can include the protection of natural habitats, the preservation of endemic species, and the development of sustainable agricultural practices. Furthermore, many communities offering these kinds of initiatives have economies based on environmentally sustainable practices, such as organic farming, sustainable fishing, and crafts made with natural and renewable materials.

Village which community based tourism in Colombia
Cienaga Grande, in Colombia, relies heavily on Community-based tourism for income

Do Travelers Give Up on Confort to Join Community-Based Experiences?

There’s a persistent myth regarding this kind of tourism: to have an authentic and sustainable experience, you must sacrifice comfort.

However, community-based tourism doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of comfort. What defines it is closeness to the local community and the sustainability of tourism practices. This can include comfortable accommodations but with a personal touch not found in standardized hotel chains.

Moreover, the spectrum of community-based tourism is broad. There are options ranging from simple rooms in local family homes to eco-lodges with all the modern amenities you would expect from a high-end hotel, all operated and managed by local communities.

Many communities offer personalized experiences. So, if you have specific preferences or needs, you can find communities that accommodate your comfort desires, whether a firm mattress or a special diet.

With the growing demand for sustainable and ethical travel, many places invest in amenities that ensure guests’ comfort, such as good quality internet access, private bathrooms, restaurants, and other luxuries.

This is a conscious choice to swap “high-speed” tourism for something more meaningful. This may mean embracing a slower pace and a simpler lifestyle, which is a form of comfort for many.

Are Community-Based Tourism Experiences More Expensive Than Tradicional Tourism?

Community-based tourism often offers personalized experiences not found in conventional tourism packages. This exclusivity and individual attention may cost more than mass experiences but also provide priceless value.

This kind of experience typically has a transparent cost structure. It is clear where (and to whom) each invested penny is going. Unlike mass tourism, where money often feeds distant corporations, in this modality the money goes directly to the people hosting, feeding, and guiding visitors.

By participating in it, you are investing in the community. Your money helps sustain local families and preserve the environment and cultural traditions. Therefore, it’s not just a financial transaction but a contribution to a more fair and equitable tourism model.

Moreover, many experiences include food, accommodation, and activities for a single price, which can be quite economical compared to paying for each element separately in a traditional tourist destination.

How Can I Be Sure My Money is Helping the Community?

Look for organizations that are open about how the money is distributed within the community. Many legitimate community-based tourism initiatives provide information on how funds are allocated.

Give preference to companies that partner with local cooperatives, NGOs, and conservation groups. These partnerships often indicate a deep commitment to the community’s interests. And don’t hesitate to ask the organizers directly how your money will be used to support the locals. A genuine community-based tourism operator will be happy to discuss this with you.

Lastly, when choosing where to eat, buy souvenirs, or select tour guides, always prefer local businesses. This helps ensure that your money is going directly into the local economy.

What Are the Biggest Challenges in Community-Based Tourism?

Like any development model, community-based tourism faces its own set of challenges. Understanding these difficulties is crucial for supporting and continually improving its practices. Let’s dive into some of the most common hurdles:

  1. Training and Education: Communities often lack the specific knowledge needed to effectively manage these initiatives, from hospitality skills to digital marketing. Training is essential to ensure they can make the most of tourism opportunities.
  2. Market Access: Connecting remote or small communities with travelers from around the world is a challenging task. Limited access to markets and platforms can restrict the visibility and feasibility of community-based tourism.
  3. Financial Sustainability: Finding a balance between profitability and maintaining cultural and environmental integrity can be tough. Community-based tourism projects may struggle to survive long-term without a stable income source.
  4. Equitable Benefit Distribution: Ensuring that the benefits of tourism are shared fairly within the community is a constant challenge, especially in larger or more diverse communities.
  5. Cultural Impact: There’s always a risk that contact with tourists may lead to cultural erosion or loss of traditional practices. Managing this cultural impact is crucial to maintaining the authenticity of community-based tourism.
  6. Tourism Dependence: Overreliance on tourism can be risky, especially during global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed us how vulnerable communities can be when international travel is disrupted.
  7. Environmental Impact: Despite community-based tourism’s commitment to sustainable practices, increasing visitors can have a negative environmental impact if not carefully managed.
  8. Resistance to Change: In some communities, there might be resistance to tourism, whether due to fears of unwanted changes or concerns about commercial exploitation.
  9. Government Policies and Support: Legal and bureaucratic challenges, along with a lack of government support and inadequate policies, can limit the development and expansion of community-based tourism.
  10. Measuring Impact: Developing systems to measure tourism’s social, cultural, and environmental impact is complex but necessary to understand whether community-based tourism truly achieves its goals.

Articles About Experiences in Community-based Tourism on Yes, Summer!

Editor of Yes, Summer! I am a Brazilian journalist, writer, and digital nomad. I have been traveling the world, telling stories, and tasting local beers since 2010. I am the co-founder of 360meridianos, a reference in travel writing in Brazil, and author of the newsletter Migraciones. On social media, I'm always reachable at @natybecattini.

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