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Why is community immersion the future of responsible tourism?

Sapa, Vietnam where visitors can stay with communities instead of hotels.
Sapa, Vietnam where visitors can stay with communities instead of hotels. Copyright Getty via Canva
Copyright Getty via Canva
By Jenny Southan
Published on Updated
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Jenny Southan argues how community-based travel will be a cornerstone of tourism in 2021.

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Travel and tourism is one of the world’s biggest industries.

Before the pandemic, the WTTC said it generated €7.3 trillion to the global economy in 2019 and employed more than 330 million people (equivalent to one in ten jobs worldwide).

However, in many cases, tourism doesn’t always benefit the people who need it most. Check in to a five-star hotel in Nairobi, for example, and the people living in Kiberia will be unlikely to profit from your presence in any way.

A lot of the time, the poorest people in many countries don’t directly benefit from foreign visitors, and “poverty tourism” (taking tours of shanty towns, for example) feels exploitative and voyeuristic.

The solution will be community immersion experiences – ranging from volunteering to cookery classes – that allow outsiders to connect with and contribute to the local economy, in a way that is respectful, mutually enriching and sustainable.

Insight without exploitation

“For us, community tourism means meeting local people and gaining an insight into local life, but also making sure your experience makes a difference to those communities," explains Zina Bencheikh, managing director EMEA for small tour group adventure travel company Intrepid

"This has become even more important as so many communities have been impacted by the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

“On our new range of closer-to-home Intrepid Retreats, travellers will cook meze in Turkey with a local family, spend time with a Berber family in the High Atlas or have dinner with a local tribe in a Bedouin camp in Jordan. These provide an authentic and memorable experience for travellers, while bringing much-needed income to local communities.

“We also work with communities to support the development of new experiences in destinations that wouldn’t otherwise see the benefits of tourism," she adds.

Black Tomato
Accommodation during a trip to Mongolia with Black Tomato.Black Tomato

"Community based tourism projects create jobs, protect the planet, generate income for families and empower the locals, particularly women. They also give travellers the chance to really connect with local people.”

As reported in Euronews Travel's trend report on Travel After 2020, co-authored by Globetrender, Cookson Adventures is another leader in this field, with the capabilities and connections to arrange for outsiders to meet with some of the most remote tribespeople on Earth in Papua New Guinea.

Responsible Travel gives the opportunity to live alongside eagle hunters in Mongolia, and Original Travel, meanwhile, can take people into the heart of Transylvania where they can learn 'lost skills' such as how to identify medicinal herbs, forge iron tools and learn folktales. In the future, travel will be less about sightseeing and more about 'life seeing.'

Jenny Southan is editor and founder of travel trend forecasting agency Globetrender.

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