Local residents of Kaikoura, New Zealand won't forget their late Maori leader Bill Solomon. At a time when wildlife tourism was virtually unheard of, Solomon proposed the novel idea of buying boats to take visitors out on whale watching trips off the rocky coast of Kaikoura.

The late `80s were difficult times as the traditional sectors of fishing, farming and railway were hit hard by an economic downturn. The township of about 3,000 residents saw rising unemployment and increasing social problems. But today, Kaikoura's economy is regenerated and its community is revitalised. The community receives about 13,000 visitors annually, and the majority of its local residents earn their living from the thriving marine wildlife tourism industry.

This is just one out of many success stories highlighted in a year-long APEC commissioned and funded study on Community Based Tourism (CBT).1

Based on extensive field work documenting successful CBT experiences in 10 member economies, APEC's Tourism Working Group (TWG), together with the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia and the Tourism Planning Research Group (TPRG) at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, completed this ambitious project to improve the understanding of CBT concepts, best practices and long-term viability among APEC members.

CBT is part of APEC's overall thrust to make the region's tourism more sustainable.

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What is Community Based Tourism?

Community based tourism (CBT) is a community development tool that strengthens the ability of rural communities to manage tourism resources while ensuring the local community's participation. CBT can help the local community to generate income, diversify the local economy, preserve culture, conserve the environment and provide educational opportunities. It requires a long-term approach and aims to maximise the benefits for the local community and limit the negative impacts of tourism on the community and their environmental resources.

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The role of tourism in improving the economic, social, environmental, and cultural well-being of APEC member economies is reflected in the APEC Tourism Charter.2 In particular, the Charter highlights how tourism generates business opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises, disperses economic benefits at the local level, and forges public-private sector partnerships.

Indeed, tourism has become one of the world's fastest growing industries and is an important means of generating national income. However, careful planning and systematic implementation are essential for bringing about the desired positive impact.

Accordingly, APEC's TWG, together with the APEC International Centre for Sustainable Tourism (AICST) and other economies' tourism-related agencies, are looking at ways to improve tourism management, spread prosperity to local communities, and preserve indigenous cultures.

"There is no point in just driving tourism for economic benefits, if local lifestyles, cultures and heritage are threatened or degraded," says Ian Kean, the Executive Director of the AICST, "Tourism should add infrastructure, services and opportunities that will benefit local communities and improve their quality of life."

A local tour operator in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, describes the disillusionment of local residents after an initial euphoria due to the increase of visitors to Ta Phin, Viet Nam - a charming mountainous village, home to the indigenous Red Dao people: "Yes, they were so excited at the first stage, but after a few years without proper management, some of them now feel bad about tourism as they could not make a living while others are getting rich."

To make tourism work, APEC is promoting CBT projects to build capacity and to encourage equitable participation of local communities, especially among women and young people. In many instances of successful CBT projects, local youths have taken up the roles of guides, boatmen and cultural performers, while local women have handled community feasts, housekeeping and producing handicrafts.

For example, the women in Ta Phin, Viet Nam, play an active role in tourism. Mdm. Ly May Chan, the head of Red Dao Women's Association of Ta Phin Village established the community's first home-stay. As a result, many young women in the village are employed in the guiding and artisan professions. The men in the village, on the other hand, are more involved in agricultural activities and are less keen on tourism.

Tourism is multi-sectoral - cutting across transport, hospitality, retail, and other industries - and is thus more susceptible to market failure. Accordingly, for tourism to be successful, Kean points out that governments must first appreciate this complexity and provide leadership and support.

The AICST therefore works hard to promote sustainable tourism in the region and to increase awareness in APEC economies about tourism in general and about CBT as a vehicle for social, economic and environmental development in particular.

Currently, the AICST is managing two capacity building TWG-related projects: one on rural tourism managed by local communities, and the other on clean technologies in rural hostelry. Workshops for both were held in March 2010 in Cusco, Peru.

The two-day workshops discussed case studies of best practices in community based rural tourism from across the Asia-Pacific and referenced examples in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines and Thailand.

The benefits of a whole-of-community approach were well-illustrated by the example set by a remote set of villages called Bario in Sarawak, Malaysia. Home-stays, guiding, transportation, catering, and retail services are offered by the local community and committees are formed to work with the local tourism industry to regulate standards and encourage sustainable practices. Thanks to tourism revenues Bario was able to establish a telecentre which they are now using to market and promote their tourism venture.

The Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua, New Zealand - the gateway to numerous thermal springs, mud pools and geysers - is another interesting example. This tourism hotspot was established in collaboration with indigenous local tribes - the Iwi and Marae - to preserve traditional cultures and to deliver an "authentic, spiritualised Maori cultural experience," thereby providing meaningful employment to over 100 Maori staff and supporting local arts and crafts.

Ultimately the aim of these workshops is to produce manuals that will help the tourism industry and tourism operators throughout the APEC region to adopt best practices in their business operations.

Developing community based tourism is just one step out of many that APEC is taking to bring about sustainable economic development in the region.