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Can Tour Operators Drive Sustainable Development Through Community-Based Tourism?

WTM London, the biggest networking event and trade fair in the UK, took place this month. The whole world is represented inside the halls of Excel, and themes and trends are set for the coming years in tourism.

I attended some of the sustainability seminars. The trend towards sustainability becoming embedded in tourism businesses was apparent as some were standing room only and were on two of the biggest stages. What has generally been on the sidelines is now front and centre of the conference programme.

One of the key takeaways is that the host community needs to be considered when developing tourism. On each of the panels I attended, it was clear that the shift is taking place that communities want and need to be involved in.

Aligning with the UNSDGs

Putting communities at the centre of the tourism product aligns with UNSDG 1 - No Poverty. Whilst this seems like an incredible goal, incremental changes from tour operators can make a significant difference worldwide.

The UN says that tourism can directly impact the No Poverty goal:

“Tourism can contribute to poverty reduction both in a direct manner – by generating jobs in tourism businesses or creating opportunities to supply goods and services to tourists and tourism businesses or to establish/run micro-, small and community-based tourism businesses."

Who can help a tour operator work towards No Poverty?

Communities must be at the centre of tourism decision-making. This ensures they receive the type of tourism and the number of tourists they want.

When we look at the tourism sphere of influence, they are far removed from the tour operators selling itineraries to travellers. We can pull that relationship closer....

Destination Management Organisations can be key drivers in this. They can work with local communities and bring them together to create tourism products that preserve their culture and heritage and help manage tourism numbers. They are vital in connecting communities to source markets and matching available products with relevant tour operators.

A stand-out example of DMO creating opportunities for the host community is Tourism Western Australia:

Tourism Western Australia has created a series of tourism products in collaboration with the custodians of the land, and there is a series of lodges and campgrounds owned and run by the aboriginal peoples, as well as cultural tours. Supporting the creation of these tourism experiences creates economic benefits, and people do not need to move to the larger towns and cities for work, thus preserving culture and heritage.

Destination Management Companies can be at the forefront of ensuring local communities are involved in tourism products. Royal Mountain Travel has been instrumental in creating the Community Homestay Network in Nepal. A Community-Based Tourism model increases engagement with the hosts, diversifies income in areas that may not directly benefit from tourism, keeps tourism spend in the community (reduces leakage) and gives voices to underrepresented communities - in this case, women are empowered by running their businesses and are respected in their community. Community-Based (or should it be Led?) Tourism experiences preserve and revive cultural traditions and give the guests a more immersive experience that they will long remember over how plush the hotel towels were…

Top tips for Tour Operators

  • A quick win is to ask your DMC and the DMOs for the region you operate and highlight those to sales staff and through marketing.

  • Ask your DMC if there is a more immersive version of the tour or experience you already offer.

  • Make it measurable and increase spend on CBT. Understand where you are today and increase the spend/number of CBT options in your portfolio over the next twelve months.

To discuss how I can help you create a sustainable tourism plan based on the UNSDGs, send me an email

Just Tourism support(s) the Sustainable Development Goals


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