Travel & Tourism underpins community development
“Conservation should be an engine for development, not only to sustain wildlife populations and habitat but also to benefit local people,” says Richard Vigne, CEO of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
You’ll spot rhinos, elephants and hippos here. But you’ll also see cows grazing alongside them. Surprisingly, Ol Pejeta integrates cattle with wildlife.
The livestock help them manage the grasslands more effectively, spending the days grazing alongside rarer wild species and corralled at night in a predator-proof enclosure. And we’re not talking just a few. There are close to 6000 cattle and 1500 are sent to market each year yielding important income for the community.
Tourism is a vital income generator for local communities in many far-flung parts of the world. It provides livelihoods, builds schools and healthcare centres.
But the conservation story becomes more interesting and more powerful when businesses that aren’t directly related to tourism spring up alongside. This symbiosis allows communities to develop further, becoming far more resilient.
How does tourism act as a catalyst for wider community development?
Tourism provides foundational infrastructure.
It funds things that other businesses also depend upon. Ecotourism projects typically provide funds for new roads, better schooling, internet connectivity, training in management. These are the building blocks for new businesses to flourish.
Improvement in infrastructure prompted by tourism has allowed all manner of support industries to flourish in Costa Rica: hotels, restaurants, car hire companies, but also local coffee growers and roasters.¹
Tourism sustains the environment and preserves traditions.
Tourists want to see the local environment in its most pristine state and they want to learn about the community’s culture and traditions. In the Khlong Noi community in Thailand, a dozen families offer homestay accommodation to tourists. A knock-on effect has been that the community has cleaned up its rivers and stopped aggressive farming practices which were destroying the landscape.
There’s a new sense of pride and purpose here that contributes to a more outward-looking entrepreneurial mindset, particularly among young people.²
Tourism promotes community ties and encourages good management practices.
Successful ecotourism requires buy-in and ownership from the local community. People have to come together to make decisions and find compromises. So teamwork and collaboration are encouraged. There’s usually a long term plan in place with a strong emphasis on sustainability too. This encourages good management practices which are important for any successful business.
There are many examples of this in Namibia where communities that started out running tourism projects now own businesses managing forests, fisheries and grazing land as well.³
Sometimes these things would have happened anyway, but often tourism is the catalyst. A whole range of new businesses spring up over time. Initially many support the tourism project and derive income from it, but increasingly they strike out on their own.
At Ol Pejeta, they’re working to spread these ideas further.
As Samuel Mutisya, Head of Wildlife Conservation says: “Having activities that are business orientated that can be adopted by communities has made us attractive as a destination because people are coming here to learn how the two can co-exist, how they contribute to peoples’ way of life.”