In the heart of the Asia Pacific, local communities are redefining the tourism landscape, steering away from the pitfalls of over-tourism and towards a more sustainable and inclusive future. Community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) is emerging as a beacon of hope, promising to preserve the region’s rich natural beauty and cultural heritage while empowering local economies.
CBST is a model that positions local communities at the forefront of tourism development and management. It's a stark contrast to traditional tourism, where external entities often reap the benefits, leaving the local environment strained and communities marginalized. CBST in Asia Pacific is rooted in inclusivity, sustainability, and empowerment, ensuring that tourism acts as a tool for positive change.
Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom, has long been a pioneer in sustainable living and mindfulness. CBST here is an extension of the country's philosophy of Gross National Happiness. By imposing a daily tariff on tourists, Bhutan ensures that the influx of visitors doesn't overwhelm the local infrastructure. The funds generated are then reinvested in community development and conservation efforts. Visitors are treated to authentic Bhutanese experiences, from traditional homestays to community-led treks.
In the serene Gulong Community in the Philippines, locals have transformed their mangrove forests into a sustainable tourism hotspot. Community members serve as stewards of the mangroves, educating visitors on the importance of these ecosystems. The tourism revenue supports local livelihoods and further conservation efforts, creating a virtuous cycle of sustainability.
The lush terrains of Sapa in Vietnam are home to indigenous communities who have opened their villages to responsible tourism. Visitors can immerse themselves in local traditions, including textile weaving and agriculture, under the guidance of community members. The initiative ensures that tourism dollars flow directly to the local economy, while also fostering a greater appreciation for the region’s cultural and natural assets.
The benefits of CBST are manifold. Local communities gain a sustainable source of income, which can be reinvested in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. The environment benefits from conservation-focused initiatives, and visitors receive a richer, more authentic travel experience.
However, challenges remain. There is a delicate balance to strike between inviting tourists and preserving the community’s way of life. Additionally, there is the constant threat of commercialization, which could erode the very essence of CBST.
The Asia Pacific region stands at the crossroads of tourism’s future. By embracing and nurturing community-based sustainable tourism, there is an opportunity to set a global standard for responsible and inclusive travel. The journey requires collaboration, education, and a steadfast commitment to sustainability. The communities leading this charge are not just protecting their heritage; they are crafting a legacy for generations to come.
By Hutsana Sangnet - Social & Public Sector Industry Correspondent at YNBC