The operational definition of community tourism that applies to the members of UCOTA is tourism delivered by community groups for the benefit of the community as represented by the members and by the wider community that the group is located in. These are small scale enterprises and for UCOTA groups these are involved in one or more of the following: handcraft production, cultural performances, accommodation and guided walks.
This meaning overlaps with ecotourism as many definitions of ecotourism cite as a criteria the involvement of the community. Many of our fellow UCOTA sites that have nature as their primary product (e.g. those that offer forest walks, bird watching walks or are located in areas of natural beauty ) define themselves as ecotourism sites.
The meaning of community tourism for UCOTA members also extends to its objectives. Community tourism aims to improve livelihoods by increasing members’ incomes and if the enterprise is of sufficient scale, by funding community projects. In our case we started with a nursery for children. Educational projects are usually the main projects funded along with local clinics, improving access to water and agroforestry initiatives.
Community tourism involves local people in the planning, decision making and implementation of tourism activities and involves them in the decision of how to use the project to develop their communities. This empowers local people as they have a say in how development occurs in their area. In projects which involve cultural heritage or biodiversity, the economic gains from the project and the interest from visitors in the product can increase the desire to preserve these items and if these items are located on project land, they can be protected and maintained. For example, the local people in the area used to come and stone our weaver birds and most trees in the area had been cut of for building material and firewood. The weaver birds and trees on our site are now protected from such activity.
In addition community tourism for UCOTA members mainly involve the poorest communities who due to their low skills, lack of education and lifestyle will not be able to benefit significantly from tourism. This applies not only to the direct economic impacts from tourism such as employing local people and ensuring the profits are spent in the community, but also to indirect impacts. Our purchase of supplies mainly comes from local community and as we employ local people they spend their wages in the local area. Therefore key to community tourism is not the amount of socio economic development that is generated as due to our small scale, this is very small, but who this development benefits. In particular in rural areas like here, there are few opportunities for economic development, in particular for women, aside from agriculture which provides insufficient income. So community tourism is used as a means of bringing development to these areas and to the poorest sections of the population who do not benefit from other strategies of socio economic development.
As community tourism is mainly (for members of UCOTA) operated by the poorest members of the community there are many significant challenges we face, in particular for developing and ensuring the sustainability of a community tourism project.
Such as grass for thatching, poles for construction of buildings and papyrus for weaving due mainly to the conversion of land to agriculture as a result of an increasing population.
This is a key problem in many groups. The lack of finance can hold back the development of a project to the required standard. It also means that a quite period can be the end of a project.
This leads to a low quality product either in handcrafts or accommodation projects. A significant skill that is usually lacking is marketing which is a key problem with many projects.
Lack of infrastructure such as transport and electricity; the implications of this can be shown using examples from this project. For example the limited menu is due to only being able to buy from the local market as we cannot afford to travel to town and we cannot stock food due to lack of refrigeration devices.
The local education levels and the subsitence lifestyle of members means understanding the long term nature of a project is difficult. This leads to low morale and inactivity among members during the start up phase of a project and during quite period. This can lead to groups disbanding.
However, these challenges need to be taken into context. Trying to bring development to the poorest people in society either in the developed or developing world always faces more challenges than brining development to other sections of the economy and therefore requires the most resources.