Friday, June 15, 2012

Simplifying Sustainable Cultural Tourism

What makes a sustainable tourism business successful? Is it having one of the top luxury eco-tourism facilities in the world – or is it having a small guiding business that offers cultural walking tours? The answer is both, if it respects the local culture, traditions and environment of a destination while contributing to the local economy.

There are a lot of sustainable tourism models that place pressure on businesses to meet a list of guidelines to be considered ‘sustainable’. Whereas we believe that having a small business that provides unique cultural experiences for visitors hosted by local guides can be just as successful as a 5 star eco-resort.  The creation of small cultural tourism businesses has the ability to empower local community members to create economic development that is in harmony with cultural traditions.

Tourists want to experience diverse cultures; to eat, live in, and explore a new place for a short time and not necessarily participate in any specific ‘tourist’ activity. The importance of the need to support the community first before commercializing the culture remains a priority.

I was thinking of some of my favourite cultural tourism experiences:
  • learning traditional survival skills in the Cameroon Highlands with a local guide;
  • sleeping in a teepee by a peaceful creek for the Sound of the Drum Tour with Algonquin Canoe Company;
  • playing with the kids in Sapa, Northern Vietnam with our homestay family;
  • sipping chai tea on the rooftop of our guide’s house in Agra;
  • organizing a community soccer match in the small town of Buenos Aires, Honduras; and
  • the 6:00 AM boat ride to experience life on the Ganges in Varanasi.

When you break each of these down, they are very simple cultural experiences which can be easily planned and managed.

A great example of a company that created a sustainable cultural tourism business is Uptuyu Adventure located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Uptuyu Adventure’s success is built upon having local Aboriginal guides that know the country intimately. Local guides escort visitors to exclusive locations to enjoy the real Aboriginal culture.  Visitors have an opportunity to learn about the bush medicines and explore the fascinating geography and history of the area. Uptuyu Adventure also creates customized experiences based on the interests of their guests.

Uptuyu Adventure, Kimberly region in Western Australia

So, if it’s not feasible to develop a 5 star eco-resort in your community, there are many other options to create unique cultural tourism businesses. CES can assist with creating cultural tourism products and services that are designed to support and empower community members, preserve the local culture and traditions, and create economic benefits. If you or your community is interested in developing a cultural tourism business, creating a tourism plan and/or marketing plan contact us for a free consultation at 1-877-444-5559 or email Amanda at

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