Community based tourism models

-Parth Joshi

Community based tourism models arose out of settlements in extreme natural environments, where businesses and domestic chores were blended into one fabric of small, self-sustained village economies. Early explorers were attached to the communities, a relationship largely defined by the adverse conditions, making ‘giving back’ more a matter of the emotional connect to the places and people, the need to preserve ‘memories’ rather than a conscious act of charity.

As tourism evolved globally from a business model into a tool for ensuring uniform diffusion of the socio-economic benefits, as well as a means of conservation with respect to biodiversity (a topic now increasingly coming under the scanner, but more due to mismanagement rather than a flaw in the concept), niches like ecotourism, responsible tourism, sustainable tourism started emerging, bound together by a common idea but the approach differing in the sect of the natural and built environment they sort to address. Community based tourism models, with their primary focus being the sustenance of the local community in harmony with the surrounding environment to ensure sustainability, blend in naturally.

Advantages of Cooperative Tourism Models

In India, the genesis of community based tourism can be looked upon from two distinct perspectives: one, the mountaineers in the Himalayan regions who connected with remote communities in the north and north eastern states, and the natural adversity left a mark upon their lives, which either kept them coming back or ensured the communities had a well wisher in the outer world. The other aspect is the Green Revolution; with HYV seeds and increasing mechanization, productivity improved, but with a drop in employability. The cooperatives were mostly agrarian though, as tourism had not grown into prominence as a medium for ensuring inclusive growth. Tourism, as a countermeasure, through the ‘umbrella’ implies that not only there is employment generation due to tourist demand, but the economic benefits thus accrued are dispersed across a multitude of sectors based upon the services the tourist uses. 

Actual focus on community based models can be said to have in Kerala, with cooperatives in Alleppey and other regions coming up in the 80s, with the simple aim of removing the ‘servant-master’ dichotomy of the service sector by making the villagers manage their own businesses. Another advantage of the cooperative model being that exit strategies for the government and other external agencies is easier once capacity building or other form of development plans have been put in place.

The biggest draw in cooperative models is its ability to ensure that the economic benefits are evenly dispersed across the entire value chain. The basic premise starts from query handling procedures. Instead of individual establishments advertising themselves, the destination is represented and promoted through a single brand that takes queries through a central system, and based upon the occupancy and services patterns of past visits, allocate the principles (read accommodation, guiding, transport, activities, groceries, food etc.) accordingly.

With the turn of the century, as the tourism landscape in the country witnessed a surge in both domestic and inbound numbers with economic growth, expansion in infrastructure and active promotion my the government brought tourism in the league of sectors identified as socio-economic enablers. Policies pertaining to development of infrastructure and human resource are increasingly being executed, and models have started mushrooming in all corners of the country, from the snow covered peaks of Uttarakhand and Himachal to the distinct culture and tea gardens of the north east to the agrarian bounties of the flood plains. Almost every progressive Indian state has recognized rural tourism as an important cog in the quest for holistic development, and its flexibility with self-managed models lends it an operational credibility.

The cooperative movement also holds importance in the Indian context for its contribution towards women empowerment, as instances all across the country (ranging across a vast sect of the rural business scape, from agriculture to food processing to handicrafts to microfinance) have shown that women groups from NGOs to SHGs have been active participants in such initiatives. The ‘of, for and by’ the people approach ensures that the management rests within the community, and there is minimal impact upon the environment, apart from reduction in economic leakages. Tourism start-ups require relatively small investments, which can be secured through institutional grants and loans or self help groups. Add to that the cross-cultural interaction, the ‘experience’ also works towards bridging the ‘urban-rural’ divide.

However, taking the concept out of theory into the field has posed some challenges. The financial aid is often not seeping into the vital components of developmental support, especially the supporting infrastructure like accessibility, safety, wayside amenities, telecommunication etc. market linkage is another vital component that further needs to be broadened. While the government can take care of the former, community support is essential for building a competent human resource. The future looks bright for the niche though, with domestic clients warming up to the concept and the tourist experience gradually shifting from ‘leisure’ to an ‘experiential’ ethos.

Suggested Readings:

•    George, B. P. (2007). Alleppey Tourism Development Cooperative:The Case of Network Advantage. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal , 10.
•    Equations. (2006, June Tuesday). From Rural Tourism to Sustainable Rural Tourism. Retrieved July 19, 2011, from Scribd:
•    Hatton, M. (2002). The Character of Community-Based Tourism. Retrieved July 19, 2011, from Community Based Tourism in the Asia Pacific:
•    Varma, P. S. (2011, March 8). APTDC plans big . The Hindu .
•    Institute, T. T. (1997). REST Project.
•    Corbett Village Eco Tour. (n.d.). Corbett Village Eco Tour. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from Corbett Village Eco Tour:

(Parth Joshi can be contacted at

"I belong to a small town in the lap of the Himalayas; hence nature has always had this lure for me since childhood. Forever enthralled by the concept of logic and its limitations, my research interest lies in the carrying capacity of Himalayan townships and developing the concept of geotourism, since ecotourism in India is presently reduced to the concept of mitigation rather than focusing upon awareness and participation. Photography, poetry and mountain biking are a passion."

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