Thursday, May 21, 2009

Community Based Tourism

CBT is tourism that takes environmental, social, and cultural sustainability into account. It is managed and owned by the community, for the communities, with the purpose of enabling visitors to increase their awareness about the community and local ways of life. -- Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute
CBT sounds great on paper. It sounds like one of the best ways to keep communities developing in a way that is non-extractive and still gives them the power. At the same time, it can protect the environment and foster cross-cultural awareness. But is it really a good or bad thing? Our first village stay in Baan Hua Nam, was not in a CBT village, but the headman mentioned at the community meeting that they would like to become one. In one sense, CBT allows communities to enter the global economy without doing too much damage to the forest like growing cash crops or logging might. It also means they don't have to leave the village to find work in the city so they can afford to send their kids to school (compulsory in Thailand). But in another sense, what does it mean for the people living here? The more they engage with the global economy, the more likely it is that consumer goods will change their way of life. And while I don't necessarily think it is right to deny anyone the kind of junk that everyone else around the world is clamoring for, this more simple and biodegradable way of life that keeps communities here quite self-reliant seems so cozy.

Also, because tourists would be so interwoven into day-to-day life-- sleeping in homes with families, eating their food-- they are so much more likely to change the culture on fundamental levels. For example, the villagers may cook and eat different food. Pi Carrie already mentioned that the villagers use a lot more eggs now that they ever did because they were told it is what farang like to eat when they come. Or maybe they will start dressing certain ways ("authentically") to please the tourists, like the Long Necks have done for the most part.

Then, this question of "is culture static or evolving" takes on a new shape. Some things will evolve and some will stay the same, but tourists make things change/stagnate in different ways than would happen without them. And the power lies with the tourists because they have the money. The tourists, in today's market-based economy, have no obligation to return if they are not satisfied and so in some ways the community is stuck having to please the tourists for their livelihood. However, Hua Nam is a very economically diverse community and so their engagement in CBT would be only as for supplementary income. My host family grows many things, gathers from the forests, and raises animals for their own subsistence. They also sell a little bit of each fruit, vegetables, and pigs.

In the village of Huai Hee, villagers expressed satisfaction with many of the foreigners they have hosted from around the world, though they described students as the best guests because they tend to be more respectful and interested in learning about the Karen way of life. The international clientele has allowed some of the Karen to learn Korean, Japanese, English, and Thai.

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