Rural tourism is a tricky business, it can represent an opportunity for a rural community, but it can also break the ties community has, through making some people very rich and some very poor. To avoid this, it is important to find option to make community as a whole benefit from tourism, but this without killing the entrepreneurship of individuals.
Recently i visited a community that has been building its own lodge. Today would like to share with you how the community has been organised, so that the community as a whole can benefit from tourism.
The first thing that stroke me, is that each household had to hand in some land, that would then become communal land. This is a hudge step for Ethiopian smallholders who just recently got land security (i.e. long term leasing) from the goverment. On this newly communal land the lodge has been build and registered under the community's name. It has a board and a manager who work for the lodge. They also manage the bank account that is on the name of the community. As this lodge is at its very beginning the community has decided to save money, so that they could invest it further into the tourism industry or to keep if for an exceptionally difficult situation for everyone (such has hunger). There are clear rule on how money from the lodge can be used.
The material from which the lodge is build, as well as the baskets and other items for sale are locally made by the women's labour exchange organisation. They are organised in groups of 20 women. Each group has its own bank account on which the money from a sale goes. The women then decide on how to distribute this money.
We were discussing pricing of goods sold to international tourists, and see how they would actually handle the value added from tourism. For them, it was always clear that they would charge a bit more (but also mentioning they would always stay fair) to international tourist. We discovered that any items sold would be first cashed by the community lodge and then paid to the women's group. In that manner it would be easy to fix a tax, insuring that the women's group get a fair price (why not 10-20% higher than local price) but what is above that would stay on the lodge's account and can be used for the whole community.We also discussed that they could actually sell goods at local prices but then charge an entry fee to foreign tourists which could be paid to the lodge, and then be used by the community.
We were pretty impressed by the smart way this community is organised to share benefits of tourism with the community as a whole. These mechanisms allow us to be sure that tourism will not hurt them, but contribute to real rural development. They earn the money they need through their own effort (i.e. do not depend on aid) and can decide themselves about what their priorities are to spend the money. What ever they do with the money, they will be feeling the owner, use it efficiently and maintain the purshased things/ investment. Also they will make choices that are feasible and useful to them (even if we sometimes might not understand these priorities).
In order to not forget anything that the community representative told us, we made a movie to capture the discussion. This quite lengthy movie, shows how difficult it was to understand clearly how the community is organised and how their benefit sharing mechanism works. But thanks to the patience of the whole team, we finally could understand the benefit sharing mechanism that could be summerized into a blog post... a great thanks to all who made this visit possible, and more particullarly to Kebebe for bringing us there and his endless patience to translate our questions and their answers.
Wanna meet this community? contact inside travel !