Community-based tourism approach for The Bahamas: moving forward, pt. 2
In the first part of this article (May 31, 2019), I reinforced your understanding of what community-based tourism (CBT) is all about. The fundamentals and CBT perspectives were discussed in length. CBT is one of the ways to empower Bahamians and encourage entrepreneurship and is the way forward for The Bahamas. During a CBT pre-workshop organized on May 15, 2019 at the University of The Bahamas, I presented the step-by-step toolkit for preparing, developing and sustaining CBT in The Bahamas. In this article, I provide a brief outline of this toolkit.
The CBT toolkit
Based on a study on CBT that was funded by the Asia Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) Forum’s Tourism Working Group in 2010, a toolkit was developed by adapting the concepts, best practices and long-term viability of CBT based on the experience of successful CBT models in the Asia Pacific region. Although one size does not fit all, the commonality in the development process and life cycle of CBT projects can be used in any destination accordingly. The adapted toolkit consists of three phases – preparation phase (consisting of two steps), developing phase (consisting of three steps) and sustaining phase (consisting of four steps). Central to the spirit of the toolkit is the aspiration to nurture the development of CBT projects to become mainstream tourism products.
Phase 1: preparing the community
The aim of phase 1 is to give exposure, educate and prepare the community, with a target outcome of determining the level of community readiness. This is critical in any CBT project as the gestation period for a successful project is almost five years. Thus, without preparing the community, CBT will fail. There are two steps in this phase.
In step one, it is critical to assess the community needs and readiness for tourism. Thus, asking the right questions of the community is important. Questions like, “why tourism”, “what is their current lifestyle”, “what is the expectation of the community”, “what is the current source of livelihood, current socio-economic condition and long term prospect of their current source of livelihood” are important. The role of tourism for the community must be determined. This can be as an alternative livelihood, a tool to justify conservation efforts, or even a training ground for future participants in other economic sectors. A situational analysis must also be carried out in step one to determine the community’s attitudes, concerns, aspirations, values, expectations and labor force needs.
In step two, after determining the readiness, the community can now be educated and prepared for tourism. A preliminary assessment should be conducted to determine potential primary tourism activities, linkages with surrounding tourism activities and other secondary and tertiary products/services within the CBT sites. The training needs of the community must be identified to prepare them accordingly. Community-to-community training can be one approach where successful communities are invited into the prospective CBT community or the prospective community may visit the successful one to learn from them. All training approaches must be documented in training manuals to ensure consistency and continuity in building the capacity of the community.
Phase 2: developing the community
The aim and target outcome of phase two is to develop community organization, planning and management. This phase consists of three steps. Step one is to identify and establish leadership or a local champion. Many CBT projects fail due to poor leadership in the community. A local champion who is visionary and can galvanize the community is essential. However, they must be well respected and trusted. Remember, local champions breed local champions.
In the subsequent step (step two), the leader or local champion should attempt to establish a community organization that is capable of planning, operating and promoting CBT projects. This organization should include every section of the community especially the women and youth. The role of CBT organizations in empowering women and youth, formulating a common vision with realistic targets, nurturing an anti-handout mentality and establishing a community fund/cooperative is critical in the developmental phase of the project. Also, understanding the tourism product life cycle is important at this step. All CBT projects will go through a life cycle that may include a decline phase should the leadership and organization fail to reinvent the existing product once it evolves and matures. The evolving stages in the cycle of CBT projects require different organization structures.
Step three then involves planning and designing quality products. What is the unique selling proposition (USP) of this CBT destination that will attract visitors/tourists to want the experience? Thus, a master plan and action plan for product development and destination/leisure management should be conceptualized at this stage. Product development should focus on developing and showcasing the core products to differentiate the island/community from other tourism destinations. Destination/leisure management should include the provision of adequate tourist infrastructure and facilities, good interpretation and high level service quality with the aim of facilitating seamless and enjoyable travel. The products should offer the following experience – authentic, educational, entertaining, enjoyable and memorable. Interpretation and communication are critical at this stage as well, with continuous improvement in the service quality. A CBT action plan is then required to create a distinct tourism experience.
Phase 3: sustaining the community
The aim of this final phase is to upscale and sustain CBT, with a target outcome of producing a CBT business plan. This phase consists of four steps. Step one is to develop partnerships. As the CBT project evolves into a complex business enterprise, expanding the target market segments is imperative. Central to its efforts in enhancing competitiveness is the establishment of partnerships with key stakeholders. These partnerships may include non-governmental organizations (to increase the community’s capacity in undertaking conservation projects); universities (to educate the local community on the appropriate framework, tools and approaches to improve quality); government agencies (to provide consultancy services to the local community and avoid falling into “handout” or “subsidy” traps); and the tourism industry (to focus and be selective on marketing and promotion as well as on specialist tour operators).
Step two will focus on adopting an integrated approach. Since tourism is a volatile business, it should not be regarded as the panacea to the economic immaturity of rural communities. Nonetheless, tourism as a development catalyst has proven to be effective especially if it is well integrated into an overall development strategy and approach. Two forms of integration can be done, namely integration with conservation, sustainable development and responsible tourism projects, or integration with other economic sectors. This will result in a good training ground for the local community to be prepared to undertake non-tourism projects.
Step three will identify market demand and develop a marketing strategy. Marketing strategies for CBT should be based on the following principles: Matching the product with the potential market segments; Understanding the channels of distribution; Embracing technology as a promotion tool; “Piggy-back-riding” on tour operators and ground handlers; Setting up an in-house travel agency; and Leveraging on award certifications to shape the branding.
Finally, step four is implementing and monitoring performance. Two important actions are critical for this step. Firstly, getting the community involved in the implementation of a CBT project is essential to empower them. Although the construction period may take a longer time, the local community will be empowered and will acquire new skills or enhance existing ones by being involved in the construction process from beginning until completion. Secondly, to ensure the sustainability of CBT projects, monitoring should be integrated into the whole planning and implementation process. All too often, monitoring is seldom carried out making it difficult for the organization to take further action to improve the quality of the product.
In summary, the CBT toolkit is a practical step-by-step approach in managing the CBT business for the local community. The toolkit is not cast in stone. It is a guide that allows the community to a take a deep dive on their destination and evaluate the product they can promote. Every step outlined in the three phases can be modified and adapted to the situation on the ground. What is most essential is that the processes adopted recognize the need to prepare the community before they embrace tourism. It should also be stressed that tourism is not the only path to development and that CBT is not the panacea to revitalize depressed rural economies. In fact, some communities may not want to be involved in tourism so it may be better to pursue different development options. After all, every destination and every community is unique with its own sets of challenges.
• Dr. Vikneswaran Nair is the dean of graduate studies and research and a professor of sustainable tourism at the University of The Bahamas.