The Nuts and Bolts of Building and Sustaining Community-Based Tourism
In this interview with Randy Durband, CEO at Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), we discuss his second round career in sustainable tourism, the GSTC’s global criteria, and the challenges and support of CBT projects and tourism goals in general in Southeast Asia.
Who are you and how did you get involved in sustainable tourism?
I worked 24 years for luxury outbound tour operators, each of which sold product on all seven continents. I “grew up” at Tauck and departed as an Executive VP, then served as Managing Director of three TUI brands based in the United States: INTRAV, Clipper Cruise Lines, and Travcoa. Foregoing income for altruism, I began a “second half of life career” in sustainable tourism. I chose to educate myself on sustainable tourism issues by working on economic development projects through tourism. I worked in various locations but mostly in Southeast Asia. There are so many challenges and opportunities here such as poverty reduction and heritage site preservation. My work and study of the issues led me to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GTSC), whose criteria for sustainability I see as vital frameworks for sustainable development and management.
What are the goals of GSTC?
GSTC holds a unique position in the world, recognized by the UN system and global sustainable tourism experts as the single source and keeper of global baseline standards for sustainability in travel and tourism. We exist to help create credibility in the marketplace for truly sustainable products. Travel companies that follow GSTC Criteria preserve the precious cultural heritage sites of Southeast Asia, respect the cultures and provide opportunities for economic growth. GSTC Criteria also advocate for fight against child trafficking by not supporting the kind of tourism activities that support it, plan for growing visitation from China and other booming source markets, and do their best to minimize negative environmental impacts.
How does community-based tourism meet the goals of GSTC?
The GSTC Criteria include environmental, social, economic, and cultural elements. When done right, community-based tourism (CBT) can excel in most of the areas relating to our Criteria. One example is the criterion relating to the hiring of local people. CBT enterprises employ and engage local people in tourism creating opportunities for careers in tourism. CBT also conducts tourism activities while working to preserve local culture and heritage sites.
According to you, what makes for an exceptional community-based tourism (CBT) project?
One in which all key facets of development and management achieve a decent level of effectiveness:
1) infrastructure development;
2) skills development;
3) a warm and welcoming environment by the entire community to visitors, including community members not directly involved in the tourism activities; and
4) partnerships with professional sales and marketing companies.
What are the challenges most CBT projects face?
Marketing, marketing, marketing! Other challenges involve: sales, branding, payment collections and banking, retention of skills developed in short training periods, fairness in inclusion of families into the CBT cooperative, revenue sharing, the balancing of supply and demand and quality control. These are many of the challenges, but the biggest one is marketing, because typically travelers are very forgiving of lapses in quality of product and service when dealing with non-professional service providers.
How can destination management companies like Khiri Travel best support CBT’s?
Developing and maintaining a CBT is extremely difficult for a number of reasons. Skills development and infrastructure development are difficult enough; but those challenges are minor compared to the enormity of the challenge of effective marketing. The most successful travel companies in the world manage to make modest profit margins, and that’s with highly educated managers and executives. Some years they make practically nothing, or even lose money if earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons or political instability disrupt their activities. Yet, if we help villagers in a poor region of the world build a CBT organization and facilities, we expect that they can manage to successfully sell and market their products on their own. But they are simply not equipped to do this. They desperately need access to and support from those who know about branding, promotion, sales, online marketing, bookings and payments—the full range of product distribution. Many don’t have access to banking or the Internet. Without support of a travel agent or dmc such as Khiri Travel, I simply cannot imagine how a CBT in a poor village could thrive or even survive.
What three tips do you have for our readers when engaging with CBT’s?
1. Seize the excellent opportunities provided to appreciate cultural differences.
2. For clients who wish for a bit more luxury than most CBT’s provide, create itineraries that alternate between simple overnight stays with more modern hotels. Seek out those CBT’s that do offer luxury product and are not limited to traditional homestays.
3. Help them overcome their marketing challenges by writing reviews online.