One of the central tenets of responsible tourism is ensuring greater community involvement and benefit, but this can be a challenging and complex goal to meet. Historic issues coupled with misconceptions can make the journey a challenging one – but around the world there are also great success stories, five of which were shared in an African Travel Week Virtual panel discussion on creating more value for local communities through local communities.
Starting in The Gambia, where Founder of the Institute of Tourism, Adama Bah began in 2000 in a hostile environment with rampant distrust and competition between guides, taxi drivers, craft makers and the formal sector – clashes that would sometimes even spill over into physical altercations. It was clear that something needed to change, and so Bah took up the baton and obtained funding to get everyone around the table to reach a consensus and come up with an implementable plan on how the small-scale enterprises could get market access. A turning point, says Bah, was when the hotels understood that tourists weren’t visiting the destination to simply stay in their hotels – but rather to experience the real Gambia – and with everyone on board, they were able to find solutions to bring the diversity and colour of the informal sector to visitors from around the world.
Another approach to creating value for local tourism communities was embraced by Uthando (Zulu or Xhosa for ‘love’). Director James Fernie, set up Uthando as a non-profit that links tourism with a broad range of community development projects and social entrepreneurs in Cape Town. “There are two elements to what we do. Firstly, we make it very easy for tourism players and organisations to identify reputable, reliable and impactful community projects that they can support,” explains Fernie, and the second element was the establishment of “philanthropic tours” so that tourists could visit interesting and innovative community projects creating an authentic tourism experience.
Also in South Africa is Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD), with CEO Glynn O’Leary at the helm, an organisation that works with communities to commercialise their tourism enterprises, mostly community-owned lodges in different parts of the country. Unlike Uthando which is a non-profit, TFPD has a very definite “for profit objective,” he explains. “This is for a simple reason – if we don’t make a profit, then the community doesn’t make a profit.”
Not so simple though, is the long-haul effort that goes into making these projects self-sustaining. “Very often you have organisations that provide funding and something starts, only for the funding to run out and then it fails,” says O’Leary. “On the other hand, if you don’t start with funding in some of these remote rural areas, then you’ll never have anything.” On the long journey TFPD has walked with its community partners, it has become clear that it can easily take up to 10 years before reaching break-even – which means you have to have the right partners to support you in what you are trying to do.
Unlike many of TFPD’s lodges, Kerala in India faced the complete opposite scenario, explains Rupesh Kumar, State Responsible Tourism Mission Coordinator for the Government of Kerala. There many tourists were visiting, but the problem was that local communities weren’t benefitting at all, and so in 2008, the government pioneered a dedicated responsible tourism initiative. “Before starting the responsible tourism inititive, there was some conflict between local communities and the tourism industry. From my experience, local communities have serious expectations and hopes about tourism development, but the tourism industry was not ready to consider the feelings of the local community,” he says. Recognising this, government intervened to find solutions and began to create linkages with the tourism industry with formal agreements with hotels and resorts for local communities to provide fresh produce. This has since expanded to the development of new community-based which range all the way from fishing to coconut tree climbing. There are now 140 experiential local tourism packages available in Kerala.
Back in South Africa, where it is actually legislated in government policy that large corporates are required to invest 3% in their after-tax profits to develop small businesses in their value chains, the potential to channel investment into local community ventures is abundant. SME Tradelinks, which is run by Dr Salifou Siddo, was set up to help large corporates identify small businesses and set up enterprise development programmes in the form of mentorship, skills training, facilitating linkages to the market or facilitating procurement opportunities. Bringing large and small business together has been “the missing link in tourism development,” says Dr Siddo. “We have achieved some success with the corporates we work with, allowing them to comply with legislation and in doing so help young entrepreneurs to come into the sector,” he concludes.