Community Participation in Tourism Planning and Development


Tourism industry is one of the largest industries across the world. Contemporarily, it is growing exponentially with an annual growth rate of 7.4 % and 14.7% in East Asia and Pacific regions respectively. The exponential growth rate of tourism has a significant impact on both community and environment; thus, the community needs to participate actively as an integral stakeholder in planning and development of the tourism industry. Gien that ecotourism has ecological, economic, social, cultural, and political benefits, pvlanning and development of tourism require collective participation of all stakeholders to enhance the sustainability of the tourism industry. According to Higgins-Desbiolles (2009), sustainable tourism encompasses optimal utilization of environmental resources, preservation of socio-cultural identity of indigenous communities, provision of long-term economic benefits, satisfaction of tourists, and promotion of ecological consciousness (p.144). Over the past decades, tourism industry had sidelined indigenous community in planning and development, which led to the perception that tourism activities erode cultures, damage environment, and abuse indigenous resources. However, evolution of the tourism industry has led to the realization that indigenous communities play an indispensable role in planning and development of tourism to deliver social, cultural, economic, and environmental benefits sustainably. To explore the impact of the community in tourism planning and development, this essay examines case studies of community-based tourism.

Heart of Borneo

Kelabit highlands and Kerayan highlands in Malaysia and Indonesia respectively form part of the Heart of Borneo, because the World Wide Fund for Nature is carrying out massive conservation of environment for sustainable tourism in the regions. In 2005, governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, in conjunction with the World Wide Fund for Nature, agreed to cooperate in establishing the Borneo Conservation Initiative, which aimed at encouraging community participation in sustainable development of the tourism industry. Developing countries, endowed with natural and cultural resources have, a great capacity to develop the tourism industry and stimulate economic growth that empowers them in the global economy. Since indigenous communities intricately identify with natural and cultural resources, it is imperative that they directly benefit from the commercialization of these resources. Hitchner, Lapu, Tarawe, Aran, and Yesaya (2009) argue that, solution to inequalities generated and supported by the tourism industry in the past decades lies in the incorporation of indigenous communities as active participants in planning and development of tourism (p.195). Outsiders have been imposing policies in tourism planning and development that favour them while disadvantaging the indigenous communities. Thus, indigenous communities of Kelabit and Kerayan highlands in the Heart of Borneo form a good case study of community-based tourism. At the Heart of Borneo, indigenous communities have formulated and implemented various strategies that have helped them to promote and control local tourism for their own benefits.

Benefits to Community

Community participation in tourism planning and development has significant benefits to the indigenous community, in terms of socio-cultural and socio-economic benefits. In socio-cultural aspect, when the indigenous communities participate in tourism planning and development, they have the chance to advocate and promote their cultures and traditions, thus preserving their cultural heritage for posterity. Aref, Redzuan, and Gill (2010) assert that, community participation in tourism planning and development is central to the promotion and preservation of community heritage in terms of indigenous cultures, traditions, knowledge, and skills, which define the identity of various communities (p.173). Since tourism industry has, in the past, neglected and marginalized the indigenous communities, cultures and traditions have been eroded with time because no one concentrated in policy making to ensure and enhance their preservation. The indigenous communities of Kelabit and Kerayan highlands have realized their rights; therefore, they have tremendously overturned the legacy of marginalization and exploitation of natural and cultural resources by the tourism industry. Through community participation, the indigenous communities now play an active role in tourism planning and development with the view of promoting and preserving their cultures and tradition amidst the sweeping foreign cultures and traditions.

In addition to socio-cultural benefits, community participation in tourism planning and development has socio-economic benefits. Indigenous communities can derive socio-economic benefits such as development of infrastructure, creation of employment opportunities, and social empowerment of the local communities through effective interaction in the business environment. The socio-economic benefits do not only empower indigenous communities locally, but also internationally by creating a platform to compete effectively in the world’s tourism industry and global economy. Khanal and Babar (2007) argue that, community-based management of tourism ensures fulfilment of social, economic, and aesthetic needs while conserving cultural identity and ecological systems through sustainable utilization of natural and cultural resources (p.2). The case study of Bario settlements in Kelabit highlands attests that, community-based planning and development of tourism is a pro-poor approach of integrating indigenous community into the social and economic mainstream of society. Tourism in Bario has not only increased employment opportunities, but also stimulated the development of lucrative business environment due to enhanced infrastructure, where the community interacts effectively with foreign people leading to regeneration of economic and social aspects of the indigenous people in Kelabit highlands.

Costs to Community

Although the participation of community in tourism planning and development has significant benefits, the indigenous communities also bear some costs related to tourism. For instance, the indigenous community loses their culture due to the encroachment of foreign cultures that tourists bring with them. Since western cultures seem to prevail across the world, tourism enhances spread of western cultures thus threatening the preservation and promotion of indigenous cultures in various destinations of tourism. Community-based tourism compels the indigenous communities to adopt foreign cultures as means of attracting and providing quality tourism services to tourists with varied cultural backgrounds. Bahaire and Elliott-White (2000) assert that, although tourism can enrich the culture of the indigenous communities, it ultimately leads to lose of cultural values and traditions (p.4). Moreover, community-based tourism associates with societal vices such as ethnic animosity, crime, drug abuse, and prostitution, which have a detrimental effect on cultural and social fabric of society.

Moreover, community-based tourism has detrimental effects on the local economy and environment. Tourism economy is very fragile since it is susceptible to international factors of the economy, which makes it difficult for a nation to regulate the sector. Therefore, community participation in tourism planning and development open up local economies to international economic trends, which might fluctuate and predispose local community to inflation and other economic factors. In addition, tourism encourages haphazard development of infrastructure tailored hastily to suit the interests of tourists but leaves the indigenous communities in need of other essential infrastructural facilities. According to Denman (2001), poor social and institutional structures in a community-based management of tourism, results into the exploitation of natural and cultural resources leading to environmental damage (p.8). Thus, community-based tourism does not guarantee sustainable utilization of natural and cultural resources if there are poor management structures.

Challenges of Community-Based Tourism

The community-based tourism in the highlands of Kelabit and Kerayan, which form part of the Heart of Borneo, is facing great challenges that prevent the indigenous community from reaping maximum benefits from the sector. One of the significant challenges is logging of forests by the indigenous people of the Kelabit highlands. Asker, Boronyak, Carrard, and Paddon (2010) affirm that, the effective implementation of community-based tourism requires all stakeholders to be onboard to enhance benefits and minimize negative effects (p.44). In the case of the Kelabit highlands, the aboriginal community still has different interests because, while others are active in tourism, some are busy logging forests, for they do not appreciate the essence of community-based tourism.

Another challenge facing the community-based tourism in the Heart of Borneo is the poor infrastructure that limits communication and movement of tourists. The Kelabit and Kerayan highlands have poor communication channels; they have few and unreliable telephones that depend on solar energy and do not have internet capability. Therefore, the lack of effective means of communication hinders advertisement of tourist sites and booking of guides and lodges by tourists. Moreover, the Kelabit highlands are quite remote in that air transport is the only means of moving goods and people, which makes it expensive to both tourists and the local people to move about in the Heart of Borneo. Harris (2009) argues that, the lack of road connections in Bario trammels the development of community-based tourism in the area (p.133). Thus, the Kelabit and Kerayan highlands need to expand transport and communication infrastructure to maximize benefits from tourists.


Community-based tourism in planning and development is a trend in the tourism industry that emerged in early 1990s after the realization that, indigenous communities can play a significant role in management of the tourism industry. In the Heart of Borneo, the indigenous communities of Kelabit and Kerayan highlands have demonstrated that the community can contribute considerably to planning and development of the tourism industry in the presence of good communication and transport infrastructures. Given that community-based tourism has substantial benefits to the community, negative effects such as erosion of culture, exploitation of resources, and occurrence of societal vices need consideration to enhance optimum benefit of tourism.


Aref, F., Redzuan, M., & Gill, S. (2010). Community Capacity Building: A Review of Its Implication in Tourism Development, Journal of American Science, 6(1), 172-180.

Asker, S., Boronyak, L., Carrard, N., & Paddon, M. (2010). Effective Community Based Tourism. Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, 1-146.

Bahaire, T., & Elliott-White, M. (2000). Tourism Management and Community Participation in York. Tourism Management, 1-8.

Denman, R. (2001). Guideline for Community-based Ecotourism Development. World Wide Fund International, 1-25.

Harris, R. (2009). Tourism in Bario, Sarawak, Malaysia: A Case Study of Pro-poor Community-based Tourism Integrated into Community Development. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 14(2), 125-135.

Higgins-Desbiolles, F. (2009). Indigenous Ecotourism’s Role in Transforming Ecological Consciousness. Journal of Ecotourism, 8(2), 144-160.

Hitchner, S., Lapu, F., Tarawe, L., Aran, S., & Yesaya, E. (2009). Community-based Trans-boundary Ecotourism in the Heart of Borneo: A Case Study of the Kelabit Highlands of Malaysia and the Kerayan Highlands of Indonesia. Journal of Ecotourism, 8(2), 193-213.

Khanal, B., & Babar, J. (2007). Community Based Ecotourism for Sustainable Tourism Development in the Mekong Region. CUTS Hanoi Resource Centre, 1-12.

Find out the price of your paper