Community-based tourism approach for The Bahamas: The fundamentals, pt.1
On May 15, 2019, the University of The Bahamas (UB) in collaboration with Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) successfully organized a pre-workshop on “Community-Based Tourism (CBT): Empowering Bahamians. Encouraging Entrepreneurship” at the Franklyn R. Wilson Graduate Centre at UB.
At this workshop, I had the opportunity to present my idea of CBT for The Bahamas, based on my more than 15 years working on this field across Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. So, the discussion in the workshop with all the stakeholders was to determine if this Southeast Asia model can be adopted or adapted to The Bahamas. In this first part of my two-part article, I would like to focus on the fundamentals of CBT that many fail to understand.
What is CBT? CBT is actually the oldest and most sustainable way of conducting tourism with visitors being invited into local and non-touristic areas of a community and interacting with people in these areas, experiencing their culture, food and participating in their way of life. CBT contributes to the well-being of communities by supporting sustainable livelihoods and protecting valued socio-cultural traditions. CBT supports natural and cultural heritage resources.
In the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum’s Tourism Charter, the importance of CBT is highlighted as an important generator of business opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). CBT is regarded as an effective vehicle for dispersing economic benefits within and among economies, particularly at the provincial level and a catalyst for partnership between the public and private sectors. In the Southeast Asia model (as outlined in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, ASEAN’s CBT principles), the following CBT principles are outlined:
(a) Involve and empower community to ensure ownership and transparent management;
(b) Establish partnerships with relevant stakeholders;
(c) Gain recognized standing with relevant authorities;
(d) Improve social well-being and maintenance of human dignity;
(e) Include a fair and transparent benefit sharing mechanism;
(f) Enhance linkages to local and regional economies;
(g) Respect local culture and tradition;
(h) Contribute to natural resource conservation;
(i) Improve the quality of visitor experiences by strengthening meaningful host and guest interaction; and
(j) Work towards financial self-sufficiency.
Although one size does not fit all, there are commonalities in the development process and life cycle of CBT projects that can be adopted by and adapted to The Bahamas. There are CBTs led and initiated by the government (example the Guisi Community heritage based tourism in Guimaras, Philippines and Seongup Folk Village in Jeju Island, Korea); non-governmental organizations (example Ta Phin Village in Sapa, Vietnam, Lashihai Homestay in Lijiang, China, and Misowalai Homestay in Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysia); industry initiated (example Saung Angklung Udjo in Bandung, Indonesia, St. Jacobs County in Toronto, Canada, and Shui-Li Snake Kiln Ceramic Park in Nantou, Chinese Taipei); and also directly led by community (example Whale Watch in Kaikoura, New Zealand, and Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Walk in Mossman, Australia).
CBT in perspectives
CBT needs to be approached in a systematic manner. It is critical to understand the suitability of the community to be involved in tourism to ensure that community members are given the opportunity to participate in related projects and are involved in monitoring and controlling the negative impacts. Remember the very definition of CBT is they are tourism activities that are community-owned and operated, managed and coordinated at the community level. This is an important principle in all the different models, whether it is initiated or led by the government, non-governmental organization, industry or the community themselves.
At the level of United Nations World Tourism Organizations (UNWTO), CBT has been focused as following: An opportunity to involve the appreciation not only of nature, but also of indigenous cultures prevailing in natural areas, as a part of the visitor experience; containing education and interpretation as a part of the tourist offer; organized for small groups by small, specialized and locally-owned businesses; minimize negative impacts on the natural and socio-cultural environment; support the protection of natural and cultural areas by generating economic benefits from it; provide alternative income and employment for local communities; and increase local and visitor awareness of conservation efforts.
CBT projects, like in any other tourism projects, go through a product life. Initially, CBT projects are small in scale, low density and operated by the community with assistance from well-meaning outsiders, such as non-governmental organizations. At this stage, the communities are content with the availability of jobs brought about by the CBT projects. However, as the CBT project matures, the challenges for the community also increase.
Inevitably, tour operators begin to show interest and extend their corporation to form partnerships with the local community. Without the necessary skills and expertise to cope with the increasing number of tourist arrivals and changing tourist demand, local communities have a tendency to become over-reliant on tour operators. Simultaneously, CBT projects will have to move up the value chain, and their long-term viability will depend on how well the key stakeholders cope with new expectations. As the gestation period for CBT may be long, potential community venturing into this program must be resilient.
Hence, in light of the growing importance of tourism as a tool for economic regeneration, it is imperative that the principles and mechanisms for developing CBT are mainstreamed. In a country like The Bahamas, can CBT contribute as an alternative income, as seen in many countries in Asia Pacific?
In The Bahamas, and in many countries in the Caribbean, there are no alternatives as tourism is the main engine that drives the economy. Thus, all stakeholders need to collaborate for a win-win model for the community and the industry to benefit from CBT. As CBT initiatives mature, the adoption of a holistic business model is essential in weaning the project from government or donor reliance, as well as to scale up the project. This is crucial in ensuring the long-term economic sustainability of CBT projects.
In summary, CBT projects and programs can empower rural communities. CBT enables rural communities to manage tourism resources while ensuring the local community’s participation. CBT enables rural communities in generating income, diversifying the local economy, preserving culture, conserving the environment and providing educational opportunities.
Local communities are able to maximize the benefits and limit the negative impacts of tourism on the community and their environmental resources. CBT can be used as a pro-poor development tool. It is a perfect tool in poverty reduction. CBT is relatively easy to start but much more challenging to sustain. A host of CBT networks now exists in the Asia Pacific region such as the Cambodia Community Based Ecotourism Network (CCBEN) and the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute (CBT-i) to support CBT in developing and scaling up their products.
Scaling up of CBT to make it more competitive in terms of its business model as well as maximizing the spread of its economic benefits is important for its sustainability. Scaling up will require better leadership and management, and an organization that is run in a systematic, transparent and accountable manner. Expanding target markets is another key element of moving up CBT along the value chain. Like any tourism product, CBT projects need systematic, careful planning and management. In the end, political will is critical if CBT is to succeed.
• Read part two of the article next month on the way forward in adapting a successful CBT model for The Bahamas.
• Dr. Vikneswaran Nair is the dean of graduate studies and research and a professor of sustainable tourism at the University of The Bahamas.