The Role of Communities in Sustainable Tourism


Local communities or host communities are the original inhabitants of a tourism destination. They are the people who have lived in these destinations before tourism, deriving a livelihood from the resources and managing and shaping the destination through culture and traditions.
The local communities can therefore be regarded as the first tourism destination managers. They support creation of tourism by providing the place for experiencing tourism; provide the authentic cultural attractions that add value to the experience and supply tourism with labor and also raw materials from their local economic activities e.g. food from their farms.

These roles of local communities i.e. destination managers, suppliers of tourism products and services and human resource, has often not been recognized by destination planners and developers, resulting to the coexistence of tourism and local communities to be that of exclusion and displacement. Local communities in tourism rich areas, particularly in developing nations, have been observed to live in poverty despite the billions of tourist dollars being generated from their resources. In extreme cases, these local communities are often evicted from their land or cut off from their livelihood resources. Cases of community exclusion and displacement have been observed in the rural villages of Bali, Tanzania and Kenya for example.

The 15th Interuniversity Student seminar on sustainable tourism focused on the importance of local community roles in sustainable tourism, factors that lead to their exclusion, the results from the exclusion and how tourism can move from exclusion to inclusion of local communities in tourism for sustainable development using case studies from community programs by Basecamp Foundation Kenya and Lets Go Travel Uniglobe.

Emerging issues

It emerged that while local communities have important roles to play in tourism the following resulted to their exclusion.
Political challenges. Tourism policies are meant to provide prosperity safety nets for local community in tourism development. Tourism policies are meant to ensure that there is inclusivity and equitable benefit sharing in tourism development at the destination, especially where the use of community resources is involved e.g. land. However, local communities are often not involved in the design of tourism policies by policy makers and in the cases where they are involved and the policy is transformative, the implementation of the same is often weak.
Private sector misconceptions of local communities. It emerged that the private sector often perceives local communities as people with social problems or people who are incapable of being equal partners in tourism development because of their social problems or people who taint the image luxury because of their social problems. Their roles are often therefore relegated to tools of promotion of intermittent CSR programs, cheap labor suppliers and cultural props or performers. Their interaction with tourist or tourist linked resources is often under certain strict conditions or cut off completely by the private sector. This often leads to the local community having a negative attitude towards tourists as they see them as a cause of their problems.
Social cultural barriers and local community perceptions. It emerged that local communities themselves have internal challenges that result to their exclusion from sustainable tourism development. For example, most cultural groups often have issues with gender inequalities which mostly affects women. Women are often excluded from meaningful social economic participation e.g. they may be denied access to education and skills development opportunities, either through forced early marriages that result in them dropping out of school or they are forced to stay at home and perform domestic duties. As a result, they are unable to participate in tourism because they lack investment or employability skills. Local communities may also not have an interest in tourism or may not want to understand tourism or maybe too conservative to participate in tourism which often leads to their exclusion because sustainable tourism must respect the local culture.

Recommendations by students

Moving from Exclusion to Inclusion for Sustainable Tourism Development
1. The role and interests of local community in tourism development should be recognized in policy and in good practice guidelines. The local community should be involved in the development and implementation of these policies and guidelines.
2. The private sector should find ways of integrating local communities in the tourism supply chain as equal partners. This will require changing their perception of who local communities and what they represent in tourism. It will also require working with the local community themselves and policy makers to build capacity of local communities for tourism knowledge, skills and technology acquisition.
3. Local communities also need to be educated on the importance of their participation in sustainable tourism development and also on how to end cultural inequalities that are hindering their participation in tourism.


Local communities clearly have roles to play in sustainable tourism development, as destination managers, local suppliers, cultural experiences creators and as human resource. However, they often end up not benefiting from tourism because of political, economic and social cultural exclusion challenges. If destinations are to realize achievement of sustainable development through sustainable tourism, these challenges will require to be addressed by first appreciating and recognizing the importance of local community participation in tourism development and then developing inclusive strategies and programs through PPP partnerships that will enhance and guarantee their participation.


Student Presentations

The importance of local community participation in sustainable tourism development Michael presented by of Zetech University
Factors that support local community engagement in their roles in sustainable tourism presented by Ian of Kenyatta University

Organization, Institutions and Business Presentations

The roles and importance of local community engagement for progressive and sustainable tourism presented by Judy Kepher Gona of Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda Ltd.
How do we engage community in sustainable tourism/sustainable destination development and the lessons presented by Amos of Basecamp Foundation Kenya
Private sector role in promoting local communities’ roles in sustainable tourism presented by Paula Okello of Lets Go Travel Uniglobe
Are there concerns on the role of local communities in sustainable tourism? presented by Grace a lecturer of Zetech University


Presenters of the day and lecturers of participating universities.

Session Moderators (Students)

Cephas of University of Nairobi
David of Dedan Kimathi University

Universities in Attendance

Zetech University-Hosts
Dedan Kimathi University
University of Nairobi
Mount Kenya University
Kenya Methodist University
Technical University of Kenya

Total number of Students in attendance: 231

The inter-university seminars is an activity of the the Knowledge Safe Space of the STTA Young Change Makers Program

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