CBT gives tourists a deeper tourism experience, immersing them in local environments and culture. File Photo: IOL

JOHANNESBURG – Big attractions at any destination are key drivers of tourism and major contributors to the tourism economy, but community-based tourism (CBT) is more transformative, improving the lives of entire communities and giving them access to more.

In the context of the many destinations represented across Africa, CBT represents an opportunity to undermine stereotypes and promote the real heart of the continent. 

The primary benefits of CBT are immediately apparent: there are advanced economic opportunities for communities and alternative sources of income, and then multiple knock-on effects. For example, in the Kenyan context, skills development takes place and an improved quality of life becomes available in terms of access to education, improved nutrition, better healthcare, improved social amenities, communication systems and security, and the reduction of poaching and logging.

The secondary benefit within Kenya is that there's greater curation of the environment. In this context, there are 160 CBT-managed conservancies covering 26 305km2, or 11 percent of the land surface in Kenya, compared with the 8 percent of land area covered by protected areas such as National parks and game reserves. 

CBT gives tourists a deeper tourism experience, immersing them in local environments and culture. 

For each $100 (R1 433) spent on a holiday tour by a tourist from a developed country, only about $5 actually stays in a developing country destination’s economy, and this is exactly what CBT can impact, by retaining the tourism dollar within. 

This is why it’s fantastic to see the various initiatives that Airbnb continues to do. The company has always encouraged a healthy and sustainable form of tourism that ensures that the benefits of tourism stay with the communities and are not kept in the hands of a few. Ultimately, CBT can generate a more positive, socially responsible image of a country. There are, however, multiple challenges facing CBTs. 

Communities need greater buy-in from the government and larger tourism enterprises. Governments across Africa can reduce barriers to access for CBTs by improving the ease of doing business, for instance by adjusting regulatory systems and licensing processes and in including CBTs in the tourism planning processes. In addition to this, governments can do more to market and promote CBTs in the same way they do large attractions as CBTs must work that much harder to promote their goods and services. 

Both the government and the private sector can work with CBTs to reduce conflict and develop partnerships such as joint-venture community lodges, where it would be easier to tackle challenges such as poaching, and, in rural areas, improving road systems, mobile networks, access to water, security and electricity. 

Digital transformation is an enabler for the entire tourism industry, and this is especially true of CBT. Through online platforms, marketing and promotion is much easier, so community-based operators don’t have to fork over commissions to further boost marketing. 

Platforms such as Airbnb are opening doors for CBTs, and that’s why it makes sense to participate in relevant market development meetings, such as the Africa Travel Summit. 

We’re better placed to make our voices heard on such platforms, to reveal the huge opportunities that are at our doorsteps. 

When marketing digitally, we're able to provide a tantalising first taste of what it is like to travel like a local; beyond the primary offering of wildlife, we can showcase that CBT ventures are immersive and experiential. 

It’s easier to showcase CBTs as inclusive and that the benefits go directly to local communities, a core value of Airbnb. In many cases, CBTs nurture life-long relationships with visitors and develop friendships that can lead to exchange visits. 

CBTs also promote tourism philanthropy, where tourism businesses are empowered and able to contribute to the development of hospitals, schools and water projects. It’s immersive and rewarding, with long-lasting memories being created.

CBT must take place in ways that do not have a negative impact on local communities. This is true of respecting cultural sensitivities; for example, if there’s a local Muslim community, appropriate behaviour that is respectful is valued. CBT relies on visitors, so use those knowledgeable local guides, enjoy the unique local goods and services, and participate in conservation and social initiatives.

This is not a fly-in, fly-out tourism experience. Stay longer in the community, get close to what's happening, and get the full experience, for the benefit of those locals, as well as for your own appreciation of a country's heart – its communities.

Taiko Lemaiyan is executive director of Kecobat, the Kenya Community Based Tourism Network.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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- BUSINESS REPORT