Impact tourism: When tourists contribute to community development

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Impact tourism: When tourists contribute to community development

Impact tourism: When tourists contribute to community development

Subheading text
Tourists are increasingly looking for ways to meaningfully contribute to the communities they visit instead of merely posting Instagram photos.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • December 6, 2023

    Insight summary 

    Impact tourism, a trend where tourists seek experiences that positively affect local communities or environments, is gaining popularity as a more responsible and sustainable travel alternative. This approach includes volunteering, eco-tourism, and cultural immersion activities, appealing to those conscious of traditional tourism's social and environmental impacts. It's particularly relevant in developing countries and areas with rich cultures or natural beauty. Impact tourism's growth could reshape the tourism industry, promoting green technologies, local community partnerships for sustainable activities, and conservation tourism. It encourages travelers to engage in authentic local experiences like homestays, and challenges the airline industry to address sustainability concerns more transparently.

    Impact tourism context

    Impact tourism is becoming increasingly popular all over the world as more travelers seek out responsible travel options. However, some destinations are particularly well-suited for this initiative. For example, many developing countries rely heavily on tourism and are therefore motivated to offer activities with a positive social or environmental impact. Additionally, destinations with a rich culture or natural beauty are often popular for travelers seeking an immersive experience. These communities are also often the most affected by traditional tourism, which can ramp up rents and property prices for residents.

    One of the main drivers of impact tourism is the increasing awareness among travelers of traditional tourism’s social and environmental impacts. There is also a growing desire among people to connect with locals and experience new cultures instead of simply visiting sites and museums. Additionally, as awareness of climate change and other global issues has grown, there has been an increasing demand for travel that does not contribute to these problems. These more sustainable options include taking electric-powered trains instead of airplanes or walking/cycling tours instead of bus group tours. Conservation programs are another way guests can learn more about a location while contributing to the country’s wildlife rehabilitation efforts.

    Disruptive impact

    Other options for impact tourism include volunteering, eco-tourism, and cultural immersion. Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community while getting to know locals and experiencing the culture firsthand. Eco-tourism activities such as hiking, bird watching, and snorkeling can help travelers connect with nature while supporting sustainable tourism initiatives such as paying environmental fees. Cultural immersion experiences such as homestays, and cooking and language classes are a great way to learn about the local culture and get to know people more authentically.

    If impact tourism continues to grow at its current rate, it is likely that it will eventually become the primary form of tourism. This development would mean that destinations must be more responsible in their planning and development to ensure that they can provide travelers with the type of experience they are looking for. Instead of setting up communities to become tourist traps by replacing local community centers with shopping malls and bazaars, tourism departments can establish partnerships with local groups that preserve the culture. This practice can help marginalized ethnic groups earn a sustainable income while being able to keep and nurture their ways of life. This form of impact tourism is also called rural tourism, where visitors are encouraged to go to less developed locations to help the communities there. 

    Wider implications of impact tourism

    Possible implications of impact tourism may include: 

    • The hospitality and transport industry transitioning to green technologies and features to attract impact tourists. This campaign includes hotels and tour transportation promoting energy conservation.
    • Local communities partnering with regional governments to develop impact tourism plans and activities, such as participating in tree planting or beach clean-ups.
    • The increasing popularity of conservation tourism, including diving, snorkeling, and participation in marine biology research.
    • Tourists looking for homestays in local villages instead of booking hotels in cities.
    • The airline industry being more transparent in how much carbon emissions are reduced by their newer aircraft. However, this might not be enough to convince sustainable tourists to keep flying.

    Questions to comment on

    • Are you a sustainable tourist? If so, what was your experience?
    • What are the other activities that can promote impact tourism?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight:

    African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism, and Leisure Sustainable Ethical Tourism (SET) and Rural Community Involvement