Community-based tourism (CBT) is tourism where local residents, usually in remote or less privileged areas invite tourists to visit their communities. Accommodation is often offered in local homes.
In CBT, the residents of a destination can earn an income as land managers, entrepreneurs, employees or service and product providers. CBT allows tourists to learn more about traditional cultures, local life and food, directly from the locals. Tourism, in this case, fosters the maintenance of traditional communities.
The Asian partners of the Erasmus+ TOURIST* project emphasize (CBT) as the favorable form of sustainable tourism.
From opium cultivation to tourism
With the project we have visited CBT destinations around Thailand: In Phuket Old Town, in Ban Jamrung south of Pattaya and in Mae Klang Luang north of Chiang Mai.
In Mae Klang Luang, opium cultivation was the main source of income just twenty years ago. The Thai government has fought against opium farming among the hill tribes of Northern Thailand for decades. Already in the eighties other crops, such as strawberries, corn and rice, were introduced to replace opium.
In Mae Klang Luang, the local Karen tribe negotiated for several years with the government about the future of the village after they abandoned opium farming. In the end, they got help from the Thailand Community Based Tourism Network to introduce tourism as a source of income besides farming.
Today tourism contributes 50 % to the total income of the social enterprise established by the inhabitants of the village. The offered tourism activities are accommodation and guiding of hikers in the nearby forests. Local guides tell tourists about the rural way of life and about the ancient traditions of the tribe. CBT helps the village people to maintain their own language, singing, dancing and handicraft traditions. Staying overnight in a rural homestay or in a CBT accommodation can be a very exotic experience for a western traveller, who is used to the comforts of a star-rated property.
New glory of Phuket Old Town
CBT can also be introduced to well-known mass tourism destinations such as the island of Phuket and the area around Pattaya. Previously, Phuket Old Town was not on many tourists’ agenda due to its lack of attractions. Partly thanks to CBT, it has been put on the tourist map.
The old trading houses have been restored and now many local families open their homes to visitors, telling stories about the traditional way of life in the old times. Tourists can visit local kitchens, take part in cooking lunch and eat together with the locals. The old town is now lively and it has returned to its former glory. Phuket has joined the ranks of Penang and Melaka with examples of well-restored Sino-Portuguese shop houses in its idyllic old town.
Tourists visiting Pattaya can now take a trip to Ban Jamrung, the village south of the beach destination, which offers a completely different perspective to a holiday. When tourists visit orchards and buy locally produced mango shampoo, it gives the local farmers additional income.
Diversifying the tourism product and perspective
CBT activities diversify the offering of more established tourism destinations and make it possible for locals to stay in their villages. From a Finnish perspective, also other forms of tourism are needed to create jobs, tourism income and wellbeing to locals. International tourism companies bring in business, leadership, marketing and ICT know-how to the wider destination community as well.
Thailand receives millions of tourists per year, and the numbers are growing, but the CBT providers can accommodate only a small fraction of them. There are also many responsible big companies, which contribute positively to communities and economic development. Well-planned mass tourism destinations are the ones that create direct tourism income and multiplier effects, and thereby contribute to increased wellbeing at a larger scale, both locally and regionally. Small is beautiful, but big can be beautiful, too!
*TOURIST project: The aim of the project is to create competence centres for the development of sustainable tourism and innovative financial management strategies to increase the positive impact of local tourism in Thailand and Vietnam.