Reflections from a community-based sustainable tourism consultant

Reflections from a community-based sustainable tourism consultant

In his second “Good Tourism” Insight, community-based and sustainable tourism consultant Peter Richards reflects on the most important thing he has learned during his career so far, and how to make it so.

While working at the crossroads of tourism and community development for more than 20 years, one gradually accumulates personal lessons learned; yes, mainly from making mistakes. The most profound lesson I have learned is the need to consciously approach working with community members as colleagues rather than as beneficiaries.

There are of course significant differences between professional consultants and ‘local community colleagues’ working in small, remote villages; including vast gaps in power, privilege and access to resources. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the closer we can move towards a relationship of colleagueship, and away from the (at least) residual arrogance and entitlement of ‘donor’ and ‘beneficiary’ relationships, the more successful our work and working relationships will be.

I am not attacking the idea of international aid. For all of its shortcomings, I have huge respect for the principle of sharing goodwill, money, and expertise between countries. However, I am advocating for a conscious re-conceptualisation of ourselves when we work in the field. Simply, when we approach local community members as our colleagues, we are orientating ourselves towards mutual respect. And we are explicitly acknowledging that we have much to learn from each other.

‘Community’, agency, and me

Ironically, in this learning journey, the very word ‘community’ can be an obstacle.

As we strive to support local people, and be sensitive to cultural differences and ways of life, our industry continually refers to ‘community’. In our effort to respect alternative spaces in a homogenised global society, we agree to defer to ‘communities’. There is a huge amount of good will and intention in this effort.

I am not proposing that our industry avoid using the words ‘community’ and ‘communities’. However, we do need to be more alert to how the word ‘community’ can so easily become a means to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’.

This is an excerpt from an article by Peter Richards, originally published by The “Good Tourism” Blog.

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