Ten years ago Jhonson Villalobos lived from illegal logging and hunting in the Osa rainforest. Today he’s become one of the many voices for conservation in his rainforest village, all due to, as he says, community tourism.
“I realized that if we kill all the animals and cut down all the trees, there’d be nothing left to see. No traveler would want to come here. We’re the owners of all of this rainforest, can you imagine if we destroyed it?”
Jhonson is one of many examples of how individual entrepreneurs and small communities around the world have started to embrace a new kind of locally-led tourism that gives travelers access to little visited places and connects with people they otherwise might not meet. Instead of developing their land to build mega hotels or other big tourism attractions, these communities have chosen to use their existing properties – often hundreds, or even thousands of acres of private land – to offer travelers an exciting and unique vacation.
Successful community tourism projects include: families in Thailand inviting travelers to stay in 150-year-old traditional homes to share a home-cooked meal; local indigenous guides in Costa Rica offering canoe rides into their remote villages for an overnight immersive experience, and cooperatives of farmers in Peru taking visitors on their daily rounds picking mountain-grown coffee .
Perhaps the most important aspect of the community tourism movement is the way it empowers local people to maintain ownership of their land and keep control over how to share their culture. The money travelers spend in these destinations goes directly toward supporting locals and gets re-invested within the community, like Cambodian Living Arts’ efforts to support traditional artists or La Leona Lodge’s work to preserve 500 acres of prime rainforest.
According to the UN, as little as 5% of international travel spending actually reaches local communities. The vast majority of travel dollars end up with airlines, big box hotels, booking sites and travel agents. It doesn’t have to be this way. When you choose to book your travel with community cooperatives, family businesses and sustainable, locally-run tour operators, you can have amazing experiences that actually leave the wonderful places and people you visit a little bit better off.
Here at Lokal, we’re making it our mission to celebrate and share the stories of inspiring community travel experiences around the world because too often they get overlooked and overshadowed. We want to make it easier for local communities and travelers to connect and travel differently, together.
If community tourism is how you want to travel, then join us for the journey. It will be an incredible adventure you will never forget!