Potential of community-based tourism in Nepal: a case study of two communities

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This article is reposted with permission from Royal Mountain Travel, a Kathmandu-based sustainable tour operator that specialises in community-based tours and trekking. In line with our 2020 theme ‘Partnerships for Tomorrow’, PATA proudly supports discussions around the topic of sustainability through the Sustainability Matters initiative.

In my over 30 years of experience in the tourism sector, I have seen tourism in Nepal come out of the shadows and more recently become concentrated in a few destinations. While these destinations are vibrant and bustling with tourist activities, others remain nestled in obscurity. On one hand, we have become exposed to problems from over tourism and on the other hand there are some destinations that are deprived of the benefits of tourism as a dollar spent rarely finds its way to them. 

Against this backdrop, there is an opportunity to engage the local communities to enable the benefits from tourism to reach them while giving travelers an opportunity to explore Nepal through the lens of the locals. A 2018 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report suggests that over the years the tendency towards culture tourism has increased.

According to the report, “culture has an immeasurable inherent value to host communities, and as such, constitutes one of the most important assets for tourism”. The report also notes that cultural tourism is beginning to shift away from museums  and monuments and is now being developed along the themes of modern life, culture and attractions, recreation and responsibility. This brings to light an opportunity that calls to be grasped, not only to tailor to changing consumer demands but also to benefit local communities. This is an opportunity that will help diversify Nepal’s tourism products. As Nepal’s nature-based tourism is highly dependent on the appropriate seasons, given the all year round nature of culture tourism, promoting it further can add a diversity element to existing tourism products. On the other hand, local communities benefit directly.

The potential of tourism to change lives for the better cannot be overstated and we see this happening very frequently, both at an individual level and at a community level. At Royal Mountain Travel (RMT), we are driven by our value of community empowerment and as we help do so, we have seen a palpable change in some communities.

Panauti, for example, was a place previously invisible under Kathmandu’s grandiosity. In 2012, RMT helped start a community homestay project and marketed the destination, thereby putting Panauti on the global map. Tourism has ushered in a lot of positive changes for the community in Panauti. From providing a source of employment to women at their own homes to stimulating the local economy, the benefits of the community homestay project are far reaching. Women homestay hosts report feeling more confident and more independent since the start of the homestay. Similarly, businesses are thriving as most of the products used in the homestays are sourced locally. The popularity of Panauti community homestay has motivated youth to start businesses to cater to the growing number of tourists. Examples of such businesses include restaurants and a bike tour company. 

Similarly, in another community called Barauli where RMT helped start a community homestay project, tourism is thriving and thereby helping locals increase their standards of living. RMT has been promoting Barauli as an alternative destination away from the major tourist hubs surrounding Chitwan National Park. The tourism in Barauli focuses more on the cultural interaction aspect while offering wildlife viewing experiences.

In Barauli, besides incentivizing locals to preserve their culture and art, RMT has helped improve the lives of the locals. The community of Barauli is largely engaged in agricultural activities. Prior to the establishment of the community homestay project, most of the women homestay hosts had to find employment opportunities on a daily basis to earn a living wage and/or a market to sell their farm products to. With the homestay project, the women hosts are now earning a decent living in a secure working environment. Majority of these women previously did not have bank accounts but are now more financially literate and independent as they get their income credited directly into their bank accounts.

While the impact on the community is clear, the feedback travelers have given on their community-based experiences are also overwhelmingly positive. Their feedback supports UNWTO’s insight on travelers’ increasing tendencies for these kind of cultural experiences. Community-based tourism in Nepal presents a win-win scenario, one that merits more discussion and promotion. 

This post is authored by Shiva Dhakal, the Managing Director of Royal Mountain Travel, a Kathmandu-based sustainable tour operator that specialises in community-based tours and trekking.