Tourism Development That Benefits Rural Communities Directly: Community Homestay Network Case Study
Community Homestay Network
Lal Durbar Marg, Kathmandu, Nepal
- Build Relationships and Trust: Invest time in building relationships and trust with the local community. Engage in open and respectful communication, listen actively to their concerns, and demonstrate genuine interest in their culture, traditions, and aspirations.
- Ensure Participation and Inclusion: The decision-making processes regarding tourism development should be led and supported by community members, who should be empowered to actively participate in the planning, development, and management of tourism initiatives, and not just starting with the implementation phase.
- Invest in Capacity Building: Providing training, education, and skill development opportunities for local stakeholders is crucial. This includes equipping them with the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools to actively engage in tourism activities, such as hospitality training, language skills, entrepreneurship, and sustainable practices.
- Promote Peer Learning and Networking: Facilitate connections between the identified community and experienced communities. This allows for knowledge sharing, mentoring, and guidance, creating a supportive network of homestay hosts.
- Support Cultural Heritage Preservation: Recognizing and celebrating local culture, traditions, and heritage is essential for community-based tourism. Preserving cultural identity and promoting authentic experiences can empower local stakeholders, as it enables them to showcase their unique assets and traditions to visitors.
- Ensure Economic Benefits: Local stakeholders should have a fair and equitable share of the economic benefits generated by tourism. This can be achieved by implementing transparent revenue-sharing mechanisms, ensuring that a significant portion of tourism income stays within the community and supports local businesses and initiatives.
An Alternative Model for Tourism to Support Rural and Indigenous Communities
There has been an important shift in recent years in the way people approach tourism. Instead of simply visiting popular destinations and checking off items on a bucket list, many travellers are seeking connected tourism experiences. Not all tourism industry players, however, have adapted to this new reality, with many still heavily focused on promoting a few well-marketed destinations,
In Nepal, although some off-the-beaten-path locations are promoted, locals still lack access to adequate skills and resources to showcase their local products or directly engage with travellers, so their potential as providers of authentic local experiences remains untapped.
The Community Homestay Network (CHN) was established in 2017 to address such challenges through community-based tourism. By promoting a community homestay model that directly benefits rural communities and women, CHN helps empower them with exposure to technology and marketing, and helps diversify their income sources.
Over 36 communities across Nepal have been part of CHN, which include more than 300 households and 1,000 members. Through this network, CHN not only creates job opportunities, but also empowers these communities to support vulnerable groups such as minorities, youth, and women.
Identifying Local Community Needs and Interests
New communities can become part of the CHN network in one of two ways: (1) a community is already registered and willing to join the network; or (2) a community and its tourism potential is identified by CHN.
Once a community is identified by CHN as a possible member, the first step is to conduct a preliminary assessment to better understand the needs and interests of the community members and existing resources. This involves interacting with community leaders, conducting group interactions, and observing local dynamics.
After the initial assessment steps, if the community is on board with the idea and agrees to proceed further, CHN helps establish connections with other experienced communities that are already active in homestays, for peer-to-peer learning. Throughout the process, from consultation to registration, CHN is also there to provide additional support.
New community members, especially those directly involved in the homestay program, also receive training to ensure they are ready to host travellers.
Effective Paths to Working with Partners
Collaborating with like-minded partners is a key part of how CHN amplifies its work, regionally and internationally. Two examples of effective partnership initiatives are CHN’s work with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which promotes sustainable and climate resilient mountain tourism in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region*; and with Planeterra, a non-profit foundation supporting community tourism around the world.
CHN and ICIMOD worked together to replicate the CHN community circuit model to create the Red Panda Trail in the Kanchenjunga region of Nepal, which was launched on World Tourism Day in 2022. This model has further been expanded, connecting three communities in eastern Nepal that have created an immersive travel itinerary, aiming to build resilient communities, empower women and youth, and promote decent work.
Through its partnership with the Planeterra Foundation, CHN has organised various activities to strengthen safety measures and upskill local hosts during the Covid-19 pandemic, for example offering health, sanitation, and safety training; and providing safety and sanitation toolkits to community homestays in Panauti and Barauli to ensure safe hosting of travellers.
Communities that are part of the CHN network are encouraged to enrol in the Global Community Tourism Network (GCTN), which helps community tourism enterprises achieve their social and environmental goals by breaking down barriers in the tourism marketplace. As strategic partners of the GCTN, CHN has collaborated with Planeterra and other community-based tourism initiatives to provide spaces for communities to share their stories, exchange ideas, and address challenges within their journeys.
Keys to Harnessing Tourism’s Potential for Community Empowerment
CHN started its journey in 2012 as a CSR project of Royal Mountain Travel, focused on empowering women and promoting responsible tourism in Panauti. Initially, there was just one home that participated as a homestay host. Since then, 17 households have joined, offering homestays in Panauti. These hosts are a close-knit community, proud of their accomplishments, and have learned important business skills through their work with the program.
CHN also helped to revive Panauti’s traditional instrument, Dhime Baja, by facilitating a three-month long course. This not only helped revive the knowledge of playing the instrument but also provided young locals with a chance to reconnect with their cultural heritage and earn additional income, as travellers visiting the community are delighted to witness and enjoy this traditional art form.
Being a homestay host is not the only way to engage in and benefit from community tourism. In Panauti, the CHN community homestay program has played a pivotal role in driving other tourism activities, leading to the creation and development of various other enterprises, such as Panauti Bike Station, generating more employment opportunities for the local youth.
Similarly in Nagarkot, the homestay program has led to diversified livelihood options through tourism, which has helped encourage youths to remain within their own community instead of seeking opportunities abroad.
Tourism is a tool for economic and cultural development, and it should be leveraged wisely. It can, as shown in these examples, play an important role in enabling economic growth, which can support community goals such as fostering a sense of pride and belonging among the younger generation; empowering women and vulnerable groups; and strengthening cultural preservation and environmental conservation.
Collaborative Planning and Local Leadership
CHN’s approaches emphasise promoting local leadership and community ownership, and encouraging active participation in the planning and execution of initiatives. Fostering a sense of ownership and accountability among community members is key to ensuring long-term success of community-led tourism initiatives.
A good example of this is the community of Barauli. After operating homestays for about a year, Barauli was struggling to reach its full potential and requested CHN’s support in managing their homestays. CHN hired a dedicated local community manager from within the community, who became an integral part of their team. This has helped enable the community members to manage their own homestay enterprises, which has led to improving their offers and receiving more travellers.
As this successful experience in Barauli shows, a key part of community tourism development is direct collaboration with communities in planning, designing, studying, and implementing community experiences. This approach ensures that locals take responsibility for community participation and support in increasing income and job creation for a sustainable future.
Creating Immersive Cultural Heritage Experiences for Travellers
The importance of community participation applies also to product development. The process of turning a piece of local identity - whether it’s a cultural performance or a traditional dish - into a traveller experience should be inspired and led by the local community members whose stories are represented by such an experience. And that means the process can take time and require patience, but collaborative planning and local ownership should be considered imperative to the success of any community tourism product.
CHN’s Ranjana Lipi and Aila workshop offers a good way to illustrate such a collaborative planning process. This workshop has been added as an experience available to Kirtipur Community Homestay guests. Kirtipur hosts and community members have identified the opportunity for promoting Ranjana Lipi, the ancient script for Nepal Bhasa (Newari language), to the world outside.
Responding to this idea, CHN worked on events to promote Ranjana Lipi. To ensure the event's feasibility and success, CHN collaborated closely with the chairperson of Kirtipur Community Homestay and two representatives, Gyan Bahadur Maharjan and Buddhilal Maharjan, who are experts in the field, and as such played pivotal roles as trainers.
These events not only educated culture enthusiasts about Ranjana Lipi and its historical importance but also garnered positive responses from participants. Encouraged by the feedback, the community decided to incorporate it as an immersive experience for travellers interested in exploring the heritage.
Impact-Driven Business Model to Reimagine Tourism
Community homestays should not be seen solely as accommodation options; instead, CHN redefines them as immersive experiences, featuring a variety of activities such as hiking, cycling, cooking classes, local arts and crafts, and wildlife safaris developed in collaboration with homestay hosts and community members.
CHN seeks to reimagine tourism as a tool to facilitate a deeper connection between travellers and locals, and to empower local communities. To successfully live up to such aims requires a viable and impact-driven business model that prioritises sustainable practices, forges meaningful partnerships, and promotes key community values.
In concrete terms, for CHN, the bottom line looks like this: 80% of revenue generated goes to homestay and experience providers, and CHN receives 20% of the revenue, which covers operations and marketing costs. Of the 80%, the families hosting the experiences receive 80% and the remaining 20% goes to community development funds.
The community funds help ensure a wider range of community members can participate in and benefit from tourism opportunities, as well as help them diversify their sources of income, which can then lead to helping extend the duration of travellers' stays in these regions. With an impact-driven approach, community tourism becomes a powerful tool for providing travellers with unique experiences that encourage adventure, exploration, and meaningful connections with the communities they visit.