New study finds community based tourism, in its current form, has not proven economically viable. Recommends changes.

Community Tourism in Kilengi / Photo: The Dilly Lama

What exactly is Community Based Tourism (CBT)? You may not be the only person who doesn’t know what this phrase means.

In the world of “funders, conservationists and development workers,” Community Based Tourism denotes visitors who live and work within a community – usually a poor, rural one.

The purpose is to help implement projects that will benefit the community over the long term.

Or, as ResponsibleTravel.com explains:

The residents (of the community) earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees. At least part of the tourist income is set aside for projects which provide benefits to the community as a whole…CBT enables the tourist to discover local habitats and wildlife, and celebrates and respects traditional cultures, rituals and wisdom.

Sounds good and cheery, doesn’t it? Well a new study has found that the economic viability of these projects is not quite…viable.

Harold Goodwin, of the of main researchers on the study, writes in his blog that out of 116 CBT initiatives nominated from all over the world, only four were economically sustainable (keeping in mind that only 28 of the projects responded).

What’s the problem?

Issues ranging from donor dependence, lack of adequate markets (average bed occupancy achieved by CBT initiatives is around 5%), vague definitions of what CBT actually is, and the fact that there is not much difference between CBT projects and conventional investments are all working against this form of tourism.

Interestingly, Goodwin notes:

The research has demonstrated that there are a number of initiatives which are not CBT which have demonstrated very considerable employment, local economic development and collective community benefits, for example Manda Wilderness (Mozambique), Aga Khan Development Network in Pakistan (Baltit and Shigar Forts) and Chumbe Island (Tanzania).

He still lists off 6 recommendations that would strengthen CBT.

Still, many of us like to believe that working from the ground-up is the way to implement sustainable ways of living, and that as tourists, we can help a community achieve this goal.

Even Goodwin asks: “If you know of examples of successful CBT initiatives where success is demonstrable by data please let me have them – I am still looking for successes.”

Do you think Community Based Tourism has been mis-judged, or should it be discarded? Share your thoughts below.