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What are the opportunities for community-based tourism from Europe?

Takes 15 minutes to read

European travellers are increasingly interested in unique and authentic experiences. A growing number are willing to pay for these special experiences, especially if it benefits local communities. Safety, sustainability and interaction with local people are important to them. If communities in your region can offer the experiences that this group is looking for, community-based tourism (CBT) can be a promising segment.


1 . Product definition

CBT aims to include local communities in tourism. The most important aspects are:

  • benefitting local communities (especially rural or indigenous people),
  • contributing to their wellbeing,
  • preservation of their cultural and environmental assets.

Tourism activities should not damage the local community’s way of life or traditions. Usually the ‘community’ works with a local tour operator. The local people get a fair share of the benefits and profits. They also have a say in how incoming tourism is managed.

CBT often includes elements of cultural and adventure tourism. Examples of CBT accommodation, activities and attractions are:

Accommodation

Activities

Attractions

  • Bed & Breakfast
  • Campground
  • Community lodge
  • Family-run guesthouse
  • Farm
  • Hammock
  • Local family/homestay
  • Open air
  • Tent
  • Tree house
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Cooking workshops
  • Dancing (traditional)
  • Handicraft workshops
  • Hiking, for example nature trails
  • Sporting activities
  • Tours, for example village, coffee, tea or wine tours
  • Volunteering
  • Archaeological sites
  • Cultural centres
  • Cultural, gastronomic, heritage and other routes/trails
  • Farms
  • Folk groups
  • Landscape sceneries
  • Local markets
  • Museums
  • Plantations
  • Wildlife sanctuaries

Traveller profile

CBT travellers generally:

  • are well-educated
  • have a relatively high income,
  • are relatively experienced travellers.

Based on level of interest in CBT, there are two types of CBT travellers:

Hard CBT travellers

This is a small group that is looking for a genuine cultural experience. They want to “live like a local” as much as possibly. They do not mind the discomfort this may cause them. In fact, too much comfort makes them afraid the experience is not authentic. Sustainable and ethical tourism is very important to them. Within Europe, this group is the largest in the Netherlands. Dutch travellers have a relatively high interest in pure CBT holidays.

Tip:

  • Emphasise your product’s authentic experience in your marketing.

Soft CBT travellers

This is the largest group of CBT travellers. They are generally interested in culture, adventure and interaction with locals. However unlike the hard CBT travellers, soft CBT travellers do want some comfort. They are mainly interested if the experience is really unique and worthwhile. If you can meet this group’s needs, it offers good growth potential.

Tips:

  • To attract soft CBT travellers, provide comfort. This means good quality:
    • beds,
    • bathrooms,
    • shower facilities,
    • food.
  • Be clear and honest about your facilities. Don’t promise something you cannot live up to.
  • Keep in mind that this group might not be actively looking for a CBT holiday. However, if you meet their needs you can easily convince them.
  • To attract soft CBT travellers, provide comfort. This means good quality:
  • Be clear and honest about your facilities. Don’t promise something you cannot live up to.
  • Keep in mind that this group might not be actively looking for a CBT holiday. However, if you meet their needs you can easily convince them.

Within these groups, there are four types of CBT travellers:

Older generation

This is the largest group of CBT travellers. Europe has a relatively large generation of people between 50 and 70 years old. This generation has more time and money available than other groups. Often their children have moved out, or they are entering retirement. They are less tied to summer holidays and travel more in low season. Older CBT travellers are healthy and like to experience new things. They are mainly interested in soft adventure activities, combined with luxury. They also look for authentic experiences.

Tips:

  • Offer a unique, authentic experience that include cultural and some soft adventure activities.
  • Provide a good standard of comfort in your products.
  • Emphasise these aspects in your marketing.

Younger generations

This group is aged between 18-30 and 31-50. These travellers are generally higher educated. They have often travelled throughout their youth and/or studied abroad. They are increasingly interested in exploring new destinations further away. There are two groups of younger travellers:

High income, little time

These are young professionals with high incomes but limited time to travel. They are mostly between 31-50 years old and often travel in couples. This group is looking for unusual ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. They want to fit as much into their holiday as possible. Comfort is important to them.

Smaller budget, extensive time

This group is mostly between 18-30 years old. Think of backpackers and gap year travellers. They travel over extended periods of time, from month to a year. They have smaller budgets and like to engage in the communities they visit. CBT products are especially attractive to them because these are generally cheaper than hotels. They also like the idea of helping with the development of the area. They mostly book CBT activities directly on the spot with local suppliers.

 

Tips:

  • Emphasise the unique experiences in your promotion.
  • Offer different options for accommodation and activities that young CBT travellers can combine. This way, they can create a personal travel package that meets their budget.
  • Offer budget products, such as volunteering projects or long stay projects that involve activities with the local community. Consider working with trusted volunteer organisations.
  • Advertise your products locally. For instance at accommodation establishments, information centres or restaurants in the area.

Families with children

The group of families with children within CBT is not very large, but growing. European parents like the trip to be educational for their children. They want to show them how people in other parts of the world live. Including what they eat and how the schools are. They look for interaction with locals and also like their children to play with local children. CBT offers such experiences. This is why most European families that travel to a Developing Country, include a CBT element.

Safety is very important. Note that yellow fever vaccinations or malaria pills can be health risks for (young) children. Therefore, parents prefer destinations that do not require these.

Tips:

  • Emphasise the safety of your destination in your marketing.
  • Offer interesting activities for both parents and children.
  • Let the children engage in the local culture. For example:
    • arrange school visits,
    • let the children play with a local sports team,
    • create a playground where the children can play together.
  • Provide a (safe) swimming area, like a pool, beach, river or lake.
  • For more information on families with older children, see our study on explorative tourism for families with children aged 12-18.
  • Rural holidays are a popular type of travel for families including grandparents. For more information, see our study on rural tourism.

Product requirements

Product requirements are aspects of the CBT product that European CBT travellers find especially important. They come with tips on how tourism providers in Developing Countries can meet these requirements.

Variety of activities

On long haul holidays, European CBT travellers generally seek a variety of experiences. They are especially interested in soft adventure activities and cultural/natural tours. For instance local cooking or handicraft workshops, but also visiting local markets and social projects. Especially popular adventure activities are walking, hiking and cycling.

Tip:

  • Include different options for activities and/or accommodation. This way, European travellers can compose their own unique adventure tourism experience.

Knowledge of the destination culture and nature

To offer CBT products, you need good knowledge of the destination and its culture, flora and fauna. European CBT travellers rely on you for this, especially on your guides. They want to make a good impression on the communities they visit. You can give them some guidelines about:

  • how to approach the local people,
  • if and when they can take photos,
  • other cultural ‘do’s and don’ts’ they should know about.

Tips:

  • Give your customers useful information about your destination.
  • Make sure your tour guides have good knowledge of your destination, for instance knowledge about the region’s anthropology, history, geology and/or flora and fauna. This way they can help your customers connect with the local people. Good guides can create a deeper understanding of the community and significantly enhance the tourism experience.
  • Having (knowledgeable!) guides from your community is an advantage over guides from another community.

Safety

Health and safety measures

Health and safety are important to European travellers. They often inquire about the safety of their destination, and safe driving can be a particular concern. They want to know about drivers and testing of equipment. Lacking cleanliness of rooms and smoke detectors are an annoyance at the destination. This might result in bad reviews after their holiday.

Tip:

  • Pay attention to health and safety measures. Make sure you:
    • regularly check vehicles and equipment
    • install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers
    • have a first aid kit available
    • invest in good drivers.

Political stability

Safety is important to CBT travellers, especially because some Developing Countries are politically unstable. Most commercial tour operators don’t offer holidays to countries that their Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared unsafe. This has led to a drop in tourism arrivals to for example Mali, Egypt and Venezuela. There are also non-political safety issues, like limited medical facilities or criminal activities in the area. Guides and other tourism providers must have good knowledge about potential dangers.

Tips:

  • Keep (potential) customers updated on changes in the safety situation in your area. For example through your website and through your staff.
  • Share safety experiences from customers on your website. Let them write about how safe they felt, because people value the experience of other travellers.
  • If your region is ‘unsafe’, commercial tour operators will most probably not go there. In this case, focus on volunteer organisations and individual travellers. Check your country’s current safety status at the website of your target countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs, like those of the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Authentic accommodation

European CBT travellers like authentic and smaller-scale accommodation. They like accommodation that represents the local culture. For example ‘Yurths’, which are typical Mongolian tents. Hard-core CBT travellers are the least worried about comfort. Families and older travellers find comfort the most important. They also expect the accommodation to be clean.

Tips:

  • Try to make your accommodation as authentic as possible.
  • Provide appropriate levels of comfort, depending on your type of guests.
  • Emphasise the authentic elements of your accommodation in your marketing.

Sustainability

Tourism providers’ eco-friendly activities are increasingly important to European travellers. For CBT travellers, social sustainability (concerning local people) is also very important. They want local communities to get a fair share of their tourism expenditure.

Tips:

  • Show CBT travellers what your community does with money it earns from tourism. For example, investing in education or creating jobs for the community.
  • Incorporate sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, like:
    • water saving taps and showers,
    • solar cookers,
    • working with local products,
    • using solar power.
  • For more information and best practices, see the UNESCO World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit.
  • Accommodation providers can encourage their guests to act responsible. For inspiration, see the Green Hotel Attributes at Environmentally Friendly Hotels.

Internet access

Most CBT travellers want to have some access to the internet. At least every few days, although they understand that this can be hard in remote areas. They usually bring their own electronic devices, like smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Tip:

  • Provide internet access to your guests at least once every three days.

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for community-based tourism?

For statistics on European source markets, see What is the demand for tourism services in developing countries?.

Popular community-based tourism destinations

According to industry experts, popular CBT destinations include:

  • Bolivia
  • Guatemala
  • Peru
  • Brazil
  • Indonesia
  • South Africa
  • Cuba
  • Laos
  • Tanzania
  • Ecuador
  • Morocco
  • Thailand

Tip:

  • In your marketing message, emphasise those CBT elements that travellers cannot find in competing countries.

3 . What trends offer opportunities on the European market for community based tourism?

Interaction with locals

European travellers are increasingly looking for authentic experiences where they can interact with locals. They like hands-on experiences with other cultures. This gives them a deeper connection with people and places, as well as understanding of the culture. This is an important reason for the popularity of CBT holidays. This trend of interaction with the locals is expected to continue in the coming five years, at least.

Tips:

  • Include interaction with locals in your CBT product. Offer for instance:
    • homestays (accommodation aimed at interaction between the visitor and the hosting family),
    • dining with the locals,
    • working on the land,
    • cooking workshops.
  • Emphasise the power of CBT as a way to interact with local people and culture.

Combining CBT with cultural and adventure tourism

Cultural and adventure tourism programmes increasingly include (optional) CBT activities. European cultural and adventure travellers often add a CBT activity to their holiday. This makes European cultural and adventure tourism tour operators an interesting market channel for CBT providers. Combining CBT with cultural and adventure tourism is a good marketing opportunity. There is a strong increase in demand for all three tourism products. Therefore, these combined programmes are predicted to be successful in the upcoming years.

Tips:

  • Approach European cultural or adventure tourism tour operators in your target country.
  • Consider working together with local cultural or adventure tourism providers to attract more customers.

Increasing use of online research

European CBT travellers increasingly research and plan their trip online. To gather information and share experiences they use:

  • peer review sites, like Tripadvisor and Holidays Uncovered,
  • travel forums, like Responsible Travel,
  • social media, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Online research is a trend that has increased exponentially over the past five years. Although growth has peaked, the use of internet to research tourism will continue to increase. It is predicted to remain the most important research channel for years to come.

Tips:

  • Maintain a strong internet presence and online marketing strategy. Also include social media. Photos and videos help travellers explore your destination and product from home. They can bring your story alive.
  • Use current customers as ambassadors for your company and area. Encourage them to share their experiences, photos and videos on social media. They can also write blogs and reviews.
  • Also use social media for market research, product development and reputation management.

For more information, see Which trends offer opportunities on the European tourism market?.

4 . What requirements should your community-based travel product comply with to be allowed on the European market?

For general tourism requirements, see What requirements should my services comply with to attract European tourists?.

There are some voluntary safety standards for where CBT overlaps with adventure tourism.

Voluntary adventure tourism safety standards

CBT has some overlap with adventure tourism. For more adventurous CBT experiences, three ISO standards support safe adventure practices: 21101, 21102 and 21103. Additionally, some countries have their own voluntary standards. For instance, BS 8848 in the United Kingdom.

Tips:

  • Study the ISO standards on adventure tourism. Use them to enhance your safety performance.
  • Check for possible voluntary standards in your target markets. 

For more information, see What requirements should my services comply with to attract European tourists?.

5 . What competition do I face on the European market?

Competition in the CBT market does not differ from the tourism market in general. For more information, see What competition do you face on the European outbound tourism market?.

Through what channels can you get your community-based tourism products on the European market?

For an overview of the trade structure for tourism, see Through what channels can you attract European tourists?. Tour operators and travellers don’t use the terms community-based tourism or CBT. Instead, focus on cultural, adventure, sustainable, family or ethical travel.

Selecting smaller specialised tour operators

Smaller European tour operators specialised in CBT or your destination offer the best opportunities. Tour operators specialised in round trips combining soft adventure and culture are also interesting. For them, CBT could be an easy add-on. You can identify interesting tour operators via trade associations, events and databases.

Some examples are:

6 . Generating direct sales

European CBT travellers increasingly book their holidays directly with service providers at the destination. This means they bypass their local tour operators and travel agents. To increase your chances of direct sales, you can promote your product on CBT-related websites/portals like Tourism Concern and Responsible Travel. Also consider developing your own national or regional CBT portal. Some examples are:

7 . What are the end-market prices for community-based tourism products?

Travellers have many destinations and types of holidays to choose from. This makes tourism a relatively price sensitive and competitive industry. The price of a long-haul trip consists of three dimensions:

  1. The exchange rate between the currencies of the country of origin and the destination country.
  2. The costs of transport to and from the destination country.
  3. The price of goods and services the traveller consumes in the destination country.

European tour operators are not open about the purchasing prices of their tourism products. According to industry experts, their margins vary between 10-25%. Prices of holiday packages vary widely, as they depend on many factors such as:

  • availability
  • destination
  • modes of transport
  • period of travel
  • number of travellers
  • length of stay
  • type of accommodation
  • activities included

Tips:

  • Check which countries have cheap (direct) flights to your destination, for instance at Skyscanner. This gives you a competitive advantage in those countries.
  • You can compare prices for CBT products via portals like Responsible Travel.
  • Tourism Boost has some useful online tools for pricing tours and accommodation. These help you determine the break-even point and ideal retail price of your tourism product.

Please review our market information disclaimer.