Community-based Tourism – An Opportunity for Central Asia


The concept of Community-based Tourism (CBT) emerged at the end of the 20th century from community development strategies, and uses sustainable – not mass – tourism as a tool to strengthen the capacities and abilities of rural community organizations in managing their own tourism resources with local participation. CBT not only builds deep connections between local hosts and those who come to stay with them and discover their lives, it also champions conservation of both the environment and local cultures, inspiring more social responsibility on the part of visitors and helping to maintain local livelihoods. CBT does not aim at maximizing profits for investors in tourism businesses. The question is not how communities can benefit more from tourism, but rather how tourism can contribute to community development, with the clearly stated goal of decreasing the impact of tourism on communities and their environmental resources.

In developing their plans, host communities can and should use tourism as a tool for community development by:

• Recognizing, supporting and promoting community ownership of tourism
• Involving community members from the start in every aspect
• Promoting community pride
• Improving the quality of life
• Ensuring environmental sustainability
• Preserving the unique character and culture of the local area
• Fostering cross-cultural learning
• Respecting cultural differences and human dignity
• Distributing benefits fairly among community members
• Contributing a fixed percentage of income to community projects

The overarching principle in any plans for CBT is that the community must prepare and build the capacity of the host community to manage tourism. CBT marketing should also promote public awareness of the differences between CBT and mass tourism, educating people to realize the importance of CBT as a community tool for resource conservation and cultural preservation. This will in turn attract appropriate tourists.

The EU funded SWITCH-Asia A Model for Sustainable Tourism (MOST) in Central Asia is fully supporting CBT principles and actions to allow positive growth and development of a locally managed tourism industry in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Kazakhstan – In partnership with the Eurasian Tourism Association (ETA), MOST was the first to introduce the principles of sustainable tourism and international practices to a large number of tourism businesses in the country. The project has raised attention on the need to develop sustainable tourism not only at the business level, but also at the state level. Stakeholders of the industry have received extensive information about environmental standards, online platforms existing in this area, technologies, marketing, financial instruments, and international experience in the implementation of sustainable tourism measures by both business and destinations. Moreover, representatives from tourist companies, hotels and educational institutions from the cities of Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Taldykorgan, Kokshetau and Shymkent have been able to deepen their understanding of sustainable tourism, become acquainted with environmental certifications, gain access to the LEIMINTE platform and draft reports for certifications.

Currently, work is under way to install equipment for monitoring electricity, heat and humidity in tourism facilities. Finally, in early August of 2022 an awareness raising campaign was launched on the 
ETA website and Facebook page inviting tourism companies, hotels and restaurants, tourist attractions and parks to join the exciting movement to save the environment. The ultimate goal of this Campaign is to enhance people’s understanding of the fact that taking care of our planet will also allow businesses to increase competitiveness and customer loyalty, as well as their financial performance through the efficient use of resources.

Brochures in both Russian and Kazakh and information sharing will inspire more communities to take their first steps towards sustainable tourism. And, those who are already implementing sustainable tourism measures, have been encouraged to use posters and visibility materials to educate their guests and customers about their initiatives.

Tajikistan – Using the principles of sustainable tourism development, the Tajik Association of Toruism Development Organizations (TATO) together with local public organizations in Tabiatdust, Farmakon, Rushd va Tamaddun and the Khukumat of Sh. Shokhin district are committed to promoting this region as a zone of ecological and ethnographic tourism. A new model of sustainable tourism based on the promotion and uptake of sustainable production and consumption practices and a rational use of natural resources is being championed by local partners with the strong belief that the latter will encourage local communities to preserve their unique cultural environment, prevent the degradation of ecosystems, and encourage tour operators and tourists to help preserve their cultural and historical traditions as well as spectacular and pristine natural attractions. Together with the local Khukumat of the region, a Plan for the conservation of biodiversity in the Sh. Shokhin region and a Marketing plan for the development of ecological tourism have been developed.

These initiatives are in progress and have formed a large community in the Sh. Shokhin area. These are some of the pilot actions underway.

• To reduce the anthropogenic pressure on natural areas and preserve the habitat of the animal and plant world, nurseries are being created for subsequent reforestation of territories, obtaining more productive fruit trees, and creating a sustainable supply of fuel and building materials.
• To promote ecological and ethnographic tourism in the region and introduce the practice of sustainable consumption, Folk Art Festivals dedicated to the celebration of Navruz in the rural settlements of the region are to be held on a regular basis.
• Interactive educational trainings are being held among school youth: presentation of the tourist opportunities of their village (national traditions, folklore, folk art crafts), an artistic drawing competition on asphalt on the topic of sustainable consumption, sports competitions (running, tug of war) deployment of a tent, provision of first aid for tourists.
• Infrastructure for the development of ecological tourism has been created in the region: national guest houses, new tourist routes have been developed (Following the footsteps of the snow leopard, Along the trails of Markhor, Photo and phyto hunting, Trekking in the zones of Specially Protected Natural Areas), and there is development of tourist ethnographic products related to national traditions, everyday life and national cuisine.

As a result of MOST project activities, decision makers and managers of natural resources have a stronger understanding of the issues of sustainable ecological tourism, sustainable production and consumption, preservation of cultural and historical traditions and natural biodiversity. Khukumat of the district and local governments are also involving civil society in decision-making processes at the local level.

On August 5, 2022, the round table ‘Public-private partnership for the regional development of ecological tourism’ was held in the Sh. Shokhin to reinforce the dialogue between local businesses and local and regional authorities on how the latter can contribute to the efforts of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to adopt a sustainable tourism model. During the round table, public policy instruments (economic, regulatory, social, etc.) were analysed, and the issues of integrating sustainable tourism into national and regional development plans, creating a cluster territory, strengthening local actions and building the skills and resources necessary for their effective application were also discussed.

Earlier, on June 27, 2022, a networking event was also organized with the World Bank Group Project Development of the Rural Economy of Tajikistan, on ‘Sources of financing for the development of sustainable tourism in Tajikistan’, which sought to create a platform for dialogue between representatives of micro, small and medium-sized businesses in the field of tourism with the World Bank Project. Representatives of tourism MSMEs were provided with advice on establishing contacts with development partners and investors. Within the framework of this project, grant resources are provided to MSMEs for the development of agricultural production, processing, storage of products, and grants for the development of the tourism business and the introduction of energy-saving technologies. TATO, in cooperation with other consulting organizations, is supporting stakeholders and small and medium-sized businesses to participate in this initiative.

Uzbekistan – Among the initiatives initiated in Uzbekistan, the following actions may be highlighted:

• The Rural Alternative Energy Initiative, which has a positive impact on the sustainability of services provided
• The adoption of waste management practices in guest houses in urban areas, including proper sorting of waste
• State Unitary Enterprise ‘Certification Center for Tourist Services’. Guest houses that have participated in seminar-trainings conducted by the MOST project are creating an informal community for the preservation of the environment and exchanging views and good practices. Informal regional groups on social networks (WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, etc.) are also being created so that knowledge and lessons learned on sustainabke tourism in the region may be shared with Central Asian tourism representatives.

Transferring EU Sustainability Practices – Cactus Hotels, Crete

“Following sustainable practices leads to international recognition” – Nikos Chalkiadakis, Managing Director and President of Heraklion Hotelier Union

The mission of the Cactus Hotels company, founded in 1980 by the Chalkiadakis family as a tourist accommodation with 27 rooms on the island of Crete, is the obligation to live in harmony with all partners, to understand sustainability goals and to align priorities (customers, suppliers, the local community). The ultimate goal is to minimize environmental impact, optimize business processes, and maximize safety, quality and performance. A key motivation that decided this enterprise to go green in sustainable tourism came from tour operators who started to consider these actions as a prerequisite for cooperation. For example, through the Travel Life Project, the tour operator TUI assures the high quality of the services provided in terms of economic, social and environmental aspects.

Such initiatives are successful when the personal philosophy and culture of the business owners aligns with relevant requests from the tour operators as the basic providers of the tourist flows. Obviously, the ultimate goal is for customers to be satisfied. The implementation of green, circular policies comes at a price, requiring extra personnel and procedures which are not always easy to manage. The biggest challenge remains for the hotel itself to transmit this philosophy to the guests and personnel so that the whole circle is complete, and this ultimately justifies the group’s policies regarding the environment, human rights, the work environment and waste, energy and water management. There is a reward that comes as a result of respecting SCP principles: namely awards and certifications by national, international and worldwide institutions. The experience of the Cactus Hotels in Crete is one among many examples of the shared challenges and opportunities faced by tourism small and medium-sized enterprises. Learning about European best practices and experiences in sustainable tourism can be thought-provoking and motivating also for Central Asian stakeholders.

Both the Central Asian region and European countries are increasingly understanding that competitiveness and sustainability of the tourism industry go hand-in-hand since the quality of tourist destinations is strongly influenced by their natural and cultural environment and their integration into the local community. International standards that are also being applied in Central Asia through the MOST project, with respect to, quality management standards, environmental management standards to help reduce environmental impacts and waste generation, health and safety standards, food safety, energy management to help cut energy consumption, and ecolabelling initatives, among others. All are essential for promoting sustainable tourism across the value chain.

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Its contents are the sole responsibility of Heraklion Development Agency and MOST project partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union’.