Community-led Tourism in Africa

Tourism by and for the community is the simple definition of community-led tourism. This is totally different from community-based tourism and community tourism. There are destinations in Africa that are reaping fully from community-led tourism. Namibia and South Africa have destinations that are already successful in community-led tourism. Also, Airbnb is a notable example at the fore of encouraging community-led tourism in Africa, through its programs to empower communities and spread the benefits of tourism to local people. From the latest discussion by STTA Change Makers on Community-led tourism within various destinations, the chat provided a lot of insight on the state of community-led tourism in Africa. Herein is a compilation of some of the key points and issues that arose from the online chat with the next generation of Africa tourism change makers.

Is community-led tourism an opportunity for Africa?

While addressing the issues of whether community-led tourism is an opportunity for most African destinations or not, discussion mentioned that community-led tourism is less disruptive of place and livelihoods and are therefore a good means of achieving sustainable tourism development. An example of community-led tourism locally such as the Ol Makau Cultural Center in Kitengela has proven to have such positive impacts. Community-led initiatives also provide more than just economic benefits to the local communities. They also develop capacity for communities to be independent, generate social capital and meet their local needs. The diverse cultures of communities within Africa provide for the opportunity to develop these initiatives within the destination since the communities can invite tourists to their locale to sample their cultures.

Additionally, one of the most important steps in community led tourism is to correctly identify opportunities that are available within communities, especially from resources owned by communities. These resources may include culture, natural resources among other attractions. Taking such advantages have proved to be beneficial for Amboseli Community Campsite located within Kenya’s Amboseli national Park. Opportunities like this arises from the fact that most of Africa’s tourism assets are nature and culturally based. These two assets are owned and within the local community’s reach.

Trends driving community-led tourism in Africa

The UN sustainable development goals are a driving forces encouraging community-led tourism. With more and more governments identifying with these goals to drive their development agenda, priorities in tourism are inclined towards society benefits. Perhaps one of the most motivating factors in community-led tourism in Africa is that the emphasis is on the local community’s to be more involved in tourism development. The issue of community involvement maybe attributed to an increase in empowered community leaders who have observed tourism over the years and are now driven to make a change. The best case in point is the recently awarded Nashulai Maasai Conservancy recognized by UNDP Equator Prize.

Community led tourism has enabled for increased efficiency and success of various development programs within some destinations. For example in Namibia through the Anabeb Conservancy where residents have switched to wildlife conservation from the age old cattle farming that was associated with number of risks. The community-led conservancy has pushed for and driven a number of developments such as the drilling of boreholes within a radius of 5 Kilometers and purchasing of a community ambulance.

Challenges that Africa faces in community-led tourism

One notable challenge in development of community-led tourism in Africa is the constant focus on communities’ limitations other than the community’s limits, which has created some sort of barrier to new entrants in destinations. Also, there has been a rigid tourism value chain that largely considers local communities as attractions and people in need of development interventions for their own good rather than equally capable business partners, a perception that is deeply rooted in the political histories of most Africa’s destinations.

Additionally, community seclusion in the development of tourism initiatives and programs by developer within the destination is another challenge that has faced not only community-led tourism but also other segments of tourism. Failures in establishing support networks for community-led tourism with local authorities for possible strategic partnerships, or within community groups is a challenge to some of the organizations. It is worthwhile noting that both social and formalized business processes are important and are all in need of professional services for their success. Marketing and market access due to lack of knowledge and resources coupled with deficiency in capacity building are some of the obstacles faced by community-led organizations in promoting community development through tourism.

How can Africa optimize community-led tourism?

Economic goals in community led tourism combined with social and environmental outcomes are some of the areas that Africa’s destinations are aiming at to optimize community-led tourism across destinations in Africa. The need to strengthen community perspectives on enhancing community development that promotes long-term empowerment and self- reliance is key in this segment. To tap into the opportunities within this sector governments need to come up with practical and workable policies and programs that will create a fair distribution of the much-needed tourism opportunities to curb the region’s inequality in terms of development. Creation of opportunities for local community’s participation directly and indirectly will encourage the development of an all-inclusive sector. Development initiatives should also seek to involve communities rather individuals within the community. To mint from community-led tourism fully, destinations in Africa need all-inclusive policies and fair-trade systems.

Community-led tourism is an initiative using tourism as tool to eradicate poverty within the community especially those located in remote areas. The discussion by STTA Young Change Makers highlighted the impacts of this segment at length pointing out at the current and future state of the segment that apparently could not all be captured in this article. The discussion that takes place biweekly on Twitter is open to everyone interested and passionate about sustainable tourism within Africa on the #sttachangemakers tag. It would be interesting to get your perception of community-led tourism in Africa on the comment section. For more on the sustainable tourism in Africa feel free to visit

Contribution by guest writer, Kepha Olwal