Alleviating poverty through community-based tourism

Alleviating poverty through community-based tourism

Article by: Profesor Dr. Suhaiza Hanim Mohamad Zailani

For many years, Malaysia has struggled with the challenges of poverty and inequality. Despite the significant advancements Malaysia has achieved in terms of a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicators, different Malaysian states face varying degrees of difficulty in achieving the SDGs. According to the Statista Research Department 2022, the East Malaysian state of Sabah has highest rate of poverty in Malaysia, with 25.3% of the people living in poverty in 2020.

To lessen the impact of poverty and inequality, adopting a novel framework is crucial to addressing and prioritising this problem.

This may be accomplished through sustainable community-based tourism (CBT), which is a burgeoning niche sector for fostering ethical rural tourism and eradicating poverty, in addition to providing a different source of income. CBT can boost job creation and enhance localised economic ties that lead to a reduction in economic leakages.

A long-term strategy is required to maximise its advantages for the local community in Malaysia as CBT is widely known as a growth development tool for the low-income group.

CBT aims to advance the SDG1 No Poverty and SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities. It emphasises community involvement in all phases of the tourism development, from idea generation through planning, execution, management, monitoring, and evaluation.

The CBT approach has long been promoted as a crucial component of sustainable tourism growth because it aims to achieve economically, sociocultural, and environmentally sustainable development while also aiming to increase the community’s tourism capacity by lowering costs and enhancing benefits of tourism.

Products from CBT include a range of tourist activities, local cuisine and drink, and accommodation services. While interior activities usually concentrate on village activities like engaging in cooking, weaving, and other traditional practises, outdoor tourist activities mainly involve trekking, camping, and strolling.

In Malaysia, CBT is known as the Malaysian Homestay Experience Programme (MHEP), coordinated under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture, and supported by other organisations. The MHEP not only offers lodging but also promotes authentic Malaysian culture, including foods, traditional clothing, and way of life. This scheme has been a success since the number of homestays that have registered has quickly grown every year, from 5 in 1995 to 223 in 2022.

In addition to have positive economic effects, such as contributions to rural development and the eradication of poverty, CBT also strengthens regional cultural traditions, empowers rural communities, fosters intercultural exchange, and protects the environment and wildlife.

However, the effectiveness of CBT as a means of empowering rural people and reducing poverty might be rated at less than 10% globally. Some of the fundamental flaws of CBT include the dependence syndrome, a lack of local ability, inadequate leadership and organisation, and poor understanding of the market.
Amran Hamzah, Professor in Tourism Planning at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has mentioned that there are nine steps which are useful for delivering a successful CBT model for rural empowerment, in which steps 1 to 5 represent the development phase:
Step 1: Assess Community Needs and Readiness
Step 2: Educate and Prepare the Community
Step 3: Identify and Establish Leadership/Local Champions
Step 4: Prepare and Develop Community Organisation
Step 5: Develop Partnerships

The sustaining phase is then represented by steps 6 through 9:
Step 6: Adopt an Integrated Approach
Step 7: Plan and Design Quality Products
Step 8: Identify Market Demand and Formulate Marketing Strategies
Step 9: Implement and Monitor Performance

Besides, it is essential for CBT to have a comprehensive and transparent financial management system to prevent financial abuse by local elites, apart from an effective local management. Community empowerment must provide resources, opportunities, knowledge, and skills to increase their capacity to determine their own future and to participate in things that affect their lives.

An action plan that will be carried out by a single stakeholder, a shared vision for tourism, and a strategic objective make up the long-term strategy of community-based tourism. This makes sure that the growth of tourism supports the cultural landscape’s authenticity going forward, minimises adverse environmental effects, and improves site management and monitoring through joint and participatory efforts.

To accomplish this, it is crucial to adopt a destination approach, which unifies and connects disparate elements or clusters into a cohesive site, particularly in regions with significant tourism-related activities.

In short, CBT is a bottom-up approach to sustainable development used in developing countries to generate income at the local level and lift people out of poverty.

– Ungku Aziz Center for Development Studies, Universiti Malaya

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