Published on January 14, 2014
Development Policy Review, 2004, 22 (5): 497-514 Community Ventures and Access to Markets: The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products Kathrin Forstner ∗ Many community-based tourism ventures face marketing problems similar to those of other rural producers. They depend on intermediaries, such as private companies, membership organisations, public sector institutions and non-governmental organisations, to facilitate market access. The article analyses the strengths and weaknesses of each type of intermediary, based on different levels of marketing support. Reflecting discussions about marketing assistance in other rural sectors, it argues that intermediary institutions have different areas of expertise and experience different constraints in terms of capacity-building, marketing know-how, financial resources and overall livelihood impacts. Instead of pursuing individual support strategies, it is therefore necessary to develop combined approaches of marketing assistance, depending on location, tourism resources and existing organisational structures. 1 Introduction Rural livelihoods are no longer considered as being a synonym for farming activities. Instead, it has been acknowledged that people in rural areas of developing countries pursue multiple strategies to make a living. Some have discovered tourism as a potential source of income complementing other activities. Even though tourism-related services require new skills and expertise, they may be closely linked to more traditional livelihood options. In the Andean highlands, for example, tourism programmes have been developed that attempt to provide insights into rural livelihoods by demonstrating farming practices and encouraging the active participation of visitors.1 Yet, the potential of tourism as a development tool has been subject to debate. While some emphasise the expected economic benefits of tourism development, others criticise tourism as eroding local culture and social structures and barely offering benefits to local people. An analysis of several case studies referring to tourism in South and South-east Asia found that, despite the number of negative impacts associated with tourism, there are also potential gains for local communities (Shah and Gupta, 2000). However, if those gains are to be realised, tourism development needs to be reorientated according to the interests of local stakeholders, in particular poor people. Such ‘propoor tourism’ development is linked with a multi-level approach encompassing the ∗ School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK (firstname.lastname@example.org). The author would like to thank Edward Allison for the support offered throughout the process of writing this article. 1. While doing fieldwork in Peru, the author visited some of these community enterprises. © Overseas Development Institute, 2004. Published by Blackwell Publishing, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
498 Kathrin Forstner destination level, the national policy level and the international level (Deloitte and Touche et al., 1999; Ashley et al., 2000). At local level, community-based tourism (CBT) initiatives can contribute towards maximising the gains from tourism. They combine the services delivered by different community members through joint planning and management, and thus seek to spread the benefits of local tourism development among different households. One major problem for these community ventures, however, is the marketing of their tourism products. CBT ventures may face a number of barriers to market access similar to those confronted by other rural producers, and thus depend on support provided by external institutions that act as marketing intermediaries. Based on a review of different experiences in CBT practice, this article analyses the role of such intermediary institutions in marketing rural tourism in developing countries. It first discusses the linkages between CBT and current development debates, pointing out characteristics but also limitations CBT shares with prevailing development concepts. Section 3 compares the marketing of rural tourism with the marketing of other rural products, highlighting common problems and briefly referring to efforts aimed at supporting small producers. Section 4 then assesses the potential of different categories of intermediary institutions to facilitate market access for CBT ventures, looking specifically at private tourism companies, membership associations, the public sector and NGOs. The final section summarises the strengths and weaknesses of these intermediaries and formulates policy recommendations for establishing a marketing framework that supports rural tourism ventures. 2 CBT in the light of development debates International development assistance has played a considerable role in supporting the development of national tourism in developing countries. Donor funding has been allocated to various tourism-related programmes and projects, including the preparation of master plans, infrastructure development and tourism training. While this form of assistance has been traditionally characterised by large-scale projects and a lack of local participation in the planning process, there now appears to be a shift towards small and medium-sized businesses, greater emphasis on environmental and social issues, and community participation at the planning stage (Lindberg et al., 1999; Lindberg, 2001). This change, occurring at least at rhetorical level, may be partly attributed to the criticism directed at past practices of tourism promotion and the pressure exerted by NGOs (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). Recent emphasis on CBT development can also be seen in the light of prevailing development paradigms and intervention strategies. With its focus on small-scale businesses, local control as well as benefit-sharing at community level, CBT appears to conform to current development agendas. As Ellis and Biggs (2001) note, some dominant themes have influenced rural development interventions over the past five decades. Among the themes more closely connected to CBT are participatory development, poverty reduction and the sustainable livelihoods approach. CBT fits within the ideological framework of participation by placing local control of tourism development in a central position. Communities determine their level of involvement in tourism; establish, own and manage tourism-related enterprises; and reap the benefits of tourism activities. Scheyvens (1999) argues that CBT thus has the
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products 499 potential to empower local communities at four levels: economic, social, psychological and political. The degree of participation at community level varies between different tourism ventures according to the management approach they choose to implement. Generally, only certain individuals or groups are directly involved in a CBT enterprise. They are often organised in tourism committees or other institutional structures that assume a coordinating function and tend to apply rotational principles that spread the workload and direct economic benefits over different households.2 Even though not all community members are likely to have an interest in becoming directly involved, the level of community participation needs to be critically assessed. Like other approaches to community-based management, CBT has to be seen in the context of local power relations. It is subject to the same criticisms directed at idealistic notions of ‘community’ and participatory development (see Mosse, 1994; Agrawal and Gibson, 1999).3 As emphasised by the sustainable livelihoods approach, rural households cannot depend on agricultural production as the sole source of income but have to explore additional livelihood options. Involvement in CBT may thus help to create sources of revenue that complement other income-generating activities but may also strengthen these alternative livelihood options. The members of RICANCIE, a network of CBT initiatives in Ecuador, have reinvested their tourism revenues in other economic activities such as aquaculture and agroforestry (Drumm, 1998). While CBT has the potential of increasing livelihood security, it might also conflict with other livelihood interests. With regard to Namibian CBT initiatives, several potential negative impacts of tourism on livelihoods have been identified. In areas designated exclusively for wildlife-related tourism activities, people face the loss of access to natural resources and to grazing land for their livestock. Furthermore, participation in CBT might contradict the goal of risk minimisation since tourism ventures are considered to be risky and linked to a considerable time lag between investment and returns (Ashley, 1998). In some cases, the perceived higher benefits from tourism could lead to the neglect of other livelihood activities, thus creating dependence on one source of income and increasing the vulnerability of rural households. Promoting CBT as an additional livelihood option may complement other strategies aimed at reducing poverty in rural communities. The Dutch development organisation SNV, for example, considers CBT as an instrument contributing to poverty alleviation. It has provided technical assistance to CBT initiatives in several countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Vietnam, Nepal and Nicaragua (Leijzer, 2003). The World Bank similarly added small programmes for community-based initiatives to 2. The community at the Peruvian island of Taquile, for example, set up committees that administer tasks such as housing, weaving, food provision and transportation. A special reception committee welcomes and registers visitors. Most of the restaurants on the island are owned and managed by groups of local families (Mitchell and Reid, 2001). 3. A proposed ecotourism programme in the Solomon Islands, for example, that was promoted as being community-based received in fact only the support of ‘big men’, the local elites, attracted by flows of financial resources linked with the programme. The wider community rejected the programme, which they considered to be a threat to their livelihoods base since it would have restricted the access to a local fishing ground (Rudkin and Hall, 1996).
500 Kathrin Forstner its funding mechanisms. It supports CBT development through its Learning Innovation Loans and Development Grant Facilities (Lindberg et al., 1999). Yet, the potential of CBT initiatives to contribute substantially towards poverty reduction is restricted. This can be partly attributed to their nature as small-scale operations. In most cases, the direct employment generated through a rural tourism enterprise is quite limited. Similarly, the economic value tends to be low, even though there are examples of joint ventures between communities and private companies that target higher value markets (Ashley and Jones, 2001; Roe et al., 2001). Furthermore, the poorest groups within communities appear to be excluded from the provision of tourism services. They often lack the necessary skills and resources to participate actively in local programmes. However, depending on the mechanisms applied for distributing tourism-related revenues, they might receive indirect benefits in the form of infrastructural improvements and financial support in emergency situations. 3 Rural producers and markets 3.1 Producers and service providers: the challenge of market access CBT ventures as small-scale providers of tourism services may face problems similar to those of other rural producers. Even though the nature of their products differs, tourism enterprises and other producers, such as smallholder farmers, experience barriers to market access that are linked to their location in rural areas. In its Rural Poverty Report, the International Fund for Agricultural Development listed a number of such obstacles for small farmers. Among the problems mentioned are distance from markets, lack of roads and communications infrastructure, lack of market information and business skills as well as a lack of political power on the part of small farmers to influence the terms upon which they participate in the market (IFAD, 2001). The very same problems can affect the marketing of CBT ventures. Distance from markets, for example, appears to be a major issue in CBT. Yet, a definition of market as describing the place where buyers and sellers of a product interact appears to be less applicable when talking about tourism products. In the context of tourism, the market may be considered as representing the (potential) buyers of a product, which reflects the dominant thinking in marketing literature (Kotler, 1991: 8-10). Distance from markets may thus describe the physical distance between CBT ventures as ‘producers’ of tourism services and tourists as consumers of these services. The latter, either middleor upper-class nationals as domestic tourists or international tourists visiting the country, tend to be concentrated in urban centres. A lack of adequate roads, linking these places with the rural area in which a tourism venture is operating, discourages tourists from visiting the site and from buying the tourism products. Such physical distance also leaves local small-scale entrepreneurs with less opportunity to establish sales-related contacts in urban centres and to promote their products to potential customers, both of which are vital for an economically successful venture. However, distance from markets should not be measured only in physical terms. In tourism marketing, it may also refer to some form of ‘socially and culturally determined distance’ between rural service providers and their markets. Members of host communities and their visitors, in particular international tourists, often have extremely different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. They do not share the same values
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products 501 and lifestyles. As a result, CBT ventures are constrained by a lack of market knowledge. They usually do not possess a thorough understanding of the needs and expectations of their potential customers. In addition, they have not acquired the knowledge about general market structures and trends that is essential for designing adequate products. These problems may be further exacerbated by an overall lack of business skills that is evident among rural entrepreneurs with no, or limited, prior business experience. The challenges linked to the marketing process will differ between CBT ventures. One factor is the degree of remoteness from urban centres or major tourist attractions. The location in a rural area per se need not be a disadvantage, if the community is close enough to a site, such as a national park, that attracts a large number of visitors and is well connected due to infrastructural development. Another determinant might be the nature of the specific market segments targeted, including aspects such as the existing demand for CBT products and the level of competition. However, CBT ventures generally face a number of constraints to market access, while possessing only limited power to overcome them. They therefore depend on other institutions that may facilitate access to markets. Such institutions, or marketing intermediaries, can provide different forms of assistance depending on their expertise and position related to the tourism market. Before looking more closely at the role of intermediary institutions in marketing CBT products, it is useful briefly to review efforts aimed at supporting other rural producers in the context of liberalised markets promoted by structural adjustment programmes and poverty reduction strategies. 3.2 Marketing intermediaries: facilitating market access In newly liberalised markets, the private sector was expected to take over the marketing functions from public institutions. Private traders, formerly regarded as exploitative middlemen, now appeared to be the more efficient actors compared with bureaucratic marketing boards. However, the experience so far has been mixed. A review of export crop liberalisation in different African countries by Shepherd and Farolfi (1999), for example, found that this process did benefit some farmers in the form of higher income, while small farmers in remote areas were now disadvantaged. The latter faced higher transaction costs and lower returns after the removal of the pan-territorial pricing policies previously promoted by parastatals. In general, private traders as market intermediaries tend to have moved more readily into sectors promising higher returns, while being discouraged from operating in more remote areas characterised by a lack of infrastructure. Given persistent market failures in rural areas and the need for public goods to promote market development, a complete withdrawal of the state from markets does not appear desirable (Carney, 1998). Instead, it is suggested that the public sector should assume a facilitating function, in particular by improving the infrastructure necessary for the marketing of agricultural products, such as facilities for transport, storage, communications, assembly, and wholesale and retail markets. It should further provide finance and market information as well as establishing a favourable policy framework for trade (Abbott, 1987). While such interventions may benefit small farmers by stimulating private sector engagement in rural areas, the state can also offer more direct support to rural producers. In several Latin American countries, for example, small producers of fruit, vegetables and dairy products struggle to access food retail markets
502 Kathrin Forstner dominated by supermarket chains. Government policies have therefore aimed at improving small farmers’ competitiveness by providing technical assistance and training and at protecting their interests by establishing regulations to promote good business practices (Reardon and Berdegué, 2002). Compared with public institutions, NGOs are generally perceived as more efficient actors in service delivery and thus have been promoted as intermediaries in development processes. In terms of market access, they may offer direct support in the form of fair trade arrangements or provide assistance in training and capacity-building. Such assistance is often directed at local membership organisations like farmers’ associations, which can offer a number of marketing-related services to individual members. Collective marketing activities have a number of advantages for small producers, including economies of scale through the joint marketing of products, improved access to finance, joint investments, collective bargaining power and lower transaction costs (Kindness and Gordon, 2001: 19). Yet, external support to such associations may have negative impacts as well. Stringfellow et al. (1997) identified potential problems with agricultural co-operatives caused by a rushed process of group formation, external interference in decision-making, and the provision of subsidies. Factors contributing to the success of farmer co-operatives, on the other hand, were an orientation towards existing skills and experience, a focus on marketing co-ordination compared with joint ownership of assets, and favourable internal group dynamics. In CBT, there appear to be structures similar to those in other rural markets. The market intermediaries briefly presented above also play a role in marketing CBT products. They are the focus of the following section, which assesses the potential of four categories of intermediary institutions, private sector companies, public institutions, membership associations and NGOs, to contribute towards facilitating market access for CBT ventures. 4 Intermediaries and marketing rural tourism products 4.1 The private sector: promoting competitive tourism products? In the tourism sector, there are a variety of intermediary institutions that are linked to the process of product distribution and to activities that enable potential customers to access tourism products. Typical intermediaries are tour operators, who combine different tourism services to create new products, and travel agencies whose main function is the sale of different tourism products. Other private businesses may similarly assume an intermediary function for CBT ventures. Lodge owners, for example, could use the tourism services offered by neighbouring communities in order to provide their guests with additional options during their stay, thus enhancing the attractiveness of their own products. In practice, there may be various intermediaries between the provider of a particular service and tourists as the relevant market. Working with local communities offers a number of advantages for private sector companies. Firstly, developing good relations with local residents can form the basis for the successful operation of a tourism venture in a given area. Mutually beneficial relationships can help to increase the acceptance of tourism activities by local people and reduce the risk of conflicts. Assisting CBT ventures may be considered a way of generating benefits at community level along with other forms of co-operation.
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products 503 Secondly, promoting a CBT product is an investment in a niche market. Even though it may not be the most profitable option, it can complement the existing portfolio of a tourism company and represents a tool for attracting new customer groups. Thirdly, engaging in CBT offers opportunities for image-building and public relations activities. It raises the profile of the company as a socially responsible operator, which may improve its market position in the long term. While private sector institutions pursue diverse interests, they primarily strive to ensure the profitability of their individual business. Within a competitive environment, they are required to develop a high level of expertise in the marketing of tourism services. They might therefore be able to offer CBT ventures valuable assistance in their marketing operations. Tourism companies consistently need to collect market information in order to design their programmes according to the interests and expectations of their target groups. A partner from the private sector might thus serve as a source of market information for a CBT venture. Such information, in particular about the needs of foreign tourists from different cultural and economic backgrounds, appears to be crucial for developing commercially successful CBT enterprises. Co-operating with the private sector has the further advantage of gaining access to the customers of a tourism company. While these businesses have usually established a system for reaching their clientèle and a network of partners that facilitates the sale of tourism products, it would be difficult for most CBT ventures to establish and maintain the necessary contacts, particularly in foreign markets. A tourism company that sells programmes based on CBT products will also use a range of promotional tools to attract the attention of potential customers. Even though the intensity of promotional activities might differ according to the importance of CBT in the portfolio of the tourism company, they will in most cases exceed the capacity of an individual CBT enterprise. In general, a distinction should be made between joint ventures and less formalised partnerships of communities and tourism companies. The former may vary in their design but tend to be characterised by some form of shared management and benefits between communities and external partners, with complete ownership and management rights being transferred to the community after a pre-determined period of time. The tour company Wildernesss Safaris, for instance, established the Damaraland Camp in Namibia as a joint venture with the local Torra conservancy (Ashley and Jones, 2001). Further examples are the the Kapawi Lodge in Ecuador and Posada Amazonas in Peru (Rodriguez, 1999; Stronza, 1999). Such joint venture agreements are usually linked to an exclusivity clause taking into consideration the rights of marketing the tourism product. This close co-operation with private sector companies may have a number of benefits for a community enterprise. The private partner could provide assistance in product design and arrange for the training of community members. With their higher level of expertise and financial strength, tourism companies could also enable CBT ventures to target higher-value markets. Further advantages of such joint ventures are the opportunity of building trust and a close relationship based on the company’s stake in the venture as well as facing a less complex system compared with dealing with different companies. Yet, such a partnership creates dependence on one market intermediary and its business performance. Restricting the co-operation with tour operators on the sale of CBT products, on the other hand, appears to offer more flexibility and, potentially, access to different market segments. However, marketing
504 Kathrin Forstner partners that have not invested in the CBT venture may be less likely to show the same degree of commitment as actors in a joint venture and may withdraw in difficult times. In addition to marketing-related assistance, private sector partners may show further commitment to supporting the communities they co-operate with. A common instrument is starting a fund that finances different community development projects. The company involved in the Kapawi Lodge in Ecuador supported the creation of a non-profit organisation that offers technical expertise and funding for projects of the local Achuar communities (Rodriguez, 1999). Yet, even though tourism companies endeavour to provide support at different levels and might be aware of the risks associated with community dependence on tourism, their main competence lies in promoting tourism activities. They usually lack the necessary expertise to explore and strengthen alternative livelihood options. While partnerships with the private sector may have several positive aspects, there are also factors that limit the role of private tourism companies as marketing intermediaries. One constraining factor is the venture’s need for economic viability linked to the profit orientation of private partners. Most CBT ventures are low-value operations and offer tourism companies only small profit margins. Companies that are interested in promoting CBT products therefore have to combine these with more conventional tourism programmes in order to remain profitable. Tropic Ecological Adventures, an Ecuadorian tour operator working with local communities, has to subsidise its support of CBT in the Amazon by selling cruises in the Galapagos Islands (Braman and Fundación Acción Amazonia, 2001). Such economic problems may even be exacerbated when choosing to support communities in remote rural areas. Wilderness Safaris, for example, invested in lodge development in Maputoland (South Africa), an area characterised by a lack of infrastructure, a prevalence of malaria and high criminal activity. Facing a lack of revenue, the company even considered selling the lodges (Poultney and Spenceley, 2001). Private businesses might therefore prefer to engage in partnerships that are limited to areas with higher potential for tourism development. Besides commercial aspects, the different status of service providers at community level and their private sector partners has implications for the success of marketing arrangements. Overcoming power imbalances between the partners based on different levels of expertise and business experience requires a long process of mutual learning and trust-building. An insightful case is Posada Amazonas, a joint venture between the tourism company Rainforest Expeditions and a local community in the Peruvian rainforest. Both partners had agreed on a model of shared management and decisionmaking. Yet, because of entrenched power differences and a lack of experience, the community initially adopted a rather passive role. It took time for community members to develop confidence and a feeling of ownership, while the tour operator had to learn to respect local knowledge and forms of organisation (Stronza, 1999). In some cases, private companies might use existing power imbalances and the lack of awareness at community level to exploit tourism resources without providing local communities with their fair share.
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products 505 4.2 Membership associations: marketing success through joint forces? On an individual basis, CBT ventures face a number of barriers that may prevent them from gaining access to tourism markets. They lack marketing skills and financial resources and are also in a weak bargaining position compared with the private sector. Joint action might help to overcome at least some of these obstacles. CBT associations have therefore been formed in various countries that undertake a similar role to that of other rural producer associations. Two examples are the Namibian Community-based Tourism Association (NACOBTA) and the Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA), which both follow a similar approach towards promoting CBT. Their members, including accommodation facilities, local museums, traditional villages and cultural groups, are represented at the annual general meeting, the highest decisionmaking body. A committee of up to ten members is responsible for the management of the association, assisted by staff members who co-ordinate the marketing-related services offered to members (Nicanor, 2001; Williams et al., 2001). One important function of CBT associations is to provide their members and communities interested in developing CBT initiatives with assistance in product development. This may include concepts for product design, development of management plans and training programmes for local service providers. NACOBTA, for example, offers training courses that cover issues such as tourism awareness, business skills and enterprise development, and advises CBT ventures on how to improve their products. In addition, three business advisers who are responsible for onsite assistance support individual enterprises in developing business plans and establishing management and organisational structures, and by monitoring the development of infrastructure (Nicanor, 2001). With regard to product development, there should be a focus on promoting complementary tourism products, thus avoiding direct competition and increasing the chances of joint marketing success. CBT associations could further draw on the experiences of individual community ventures and stimulate the exchange of information between different enterprises. CBT associations may facilitate the distribution of CBT products either directly or by establishing linkages with the private sector. NACOBTA seeks to incorporate CBT into the mainstream tourism industry by joining the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations, attending meetings of a private sector association and promoting joint ventures between communities and private tourism companies. At the same time, the organisation runs an office and has developed a booking system in order to support directly the sale of CBT products (Nicanor, 2001). The efforts of CBT associations to target either tourists or private companies as intermediaries are strengthened by a range of promotional activities, such as participation in trade fairs and the distribution of promotional material. Besides disseminating information about individual tourism products, this could also contribute towards improving the general awareness of CBT in the public. In contrast to the private sector, CBT organisations usually do not have the necessary resources for providing additional financial support for community projects. But they might attempt to promote alternative sources of income. UCOTA, for example, supports rural handicraft production, which has been important in dealing with fluctuations in tourism demand caused by national security problems (Williams et al.,
506 Kathrin Forstner 2001). However, the capacity of CBT associations for a direct involvement in other livelihood activities may be limited. One major problem that CBT associations face is their lack of financial sustainability. The Toledo Ecotourism Association, a network of communities in the Toledo district of Belize, has been severely restricted in its marketing activities since it has not been able to maintain its office and employ full-time staff (Strasdas, 2000). While NACOBTA and UCOTA do have functional offices, they depend on donor funding. Their capacity to generate revenues by collecting membership fees and charging for selected services is rather limited. However, UCOTA has been able to cover part of its costs through the sale of handicrafts (Nicanor, 2001; Williams et al, 2001). Partly linked to financial problems is a second problem area, which refers to the quality of services offered by CBT associations. NACOBTA has been criticised for a lack of business expertise among its staff members who mainly have a background in NGO activities. Consequently, the organisation has not been able to produce marketing material of sufficient quality to make its members competitive in the tourism market. This lack of business competence also inhibits the co-operation with private sector companies, which expect qualified partners (Nicanor, 2001). Thus, any attempts to integrate CBT ventures into the tourism sector might well falter due to a lack of professionalism in CBT organisations. Other problems might arise with respect to relations between the members of CBT networks and unrealistic expectations concerning the potential of CBT to promote community development. The Toledo Ecotourism Association had introduced a rotation principle for allocating guests in order to spread the benefits of tourism evenly over its member communities. Due to mismanagement on the part of a former co-ordinator, different levels of accessibility and differences in quality of attractions and services, some communities have benefited more than others, and this has led to frustration among community groups, particularly in the more remote villages. One member community even decided to take down its guesthouse (Strasdas, 2000). Thus, CBT networks not only have the potential for inter-community exchange but also run the risk of conflicts. 4.3 The public sector: providing a favourable policy framework? While promoting tourism development has been a priority area for governments in several developing countries, a focus on CBT has appeared only recently in tourism policy frameworks. Within the context of national tourism development, assistance to CBT initiatives can be attributed to different political strategies. One reason for engaging in rural tourism, as mentioned earlier, is the perceived linkage between CBT and poverty reduction. Furthermore, governments may follow the goal of orientating the national tourism sector towards certain markets and/or diversifying the national tourism product. When attempting to position their countries as leading ecotourism destinations, the governments of Belize and Costa Rica emphasised the importance of CBT initiatives, which are generally considered as part of ecotourism development (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). Some countries might use CBT to add cultural components to their mainly nature-based attractions. Uganda and St Lucia, for example,
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products 507 have started to promote heritage tourism, which is based on a strong involvement of local communities (Renard, 2001; Holland et al., 2003). In terms of marketing assistance, national tourism boards or similar parastatal bodies can play an important role. Their responsibility is to market their country as a tourist destination. While this was traditionally limited to a promotional strategy, there has now been a shift towards marketing facilitation. This new role is based on specific policy objectives and involves support for new tourism products that are relevant to such policy (Middleton, 1994). Thus, national tourist boards may actively facilitate the development of CBT products by providing market information linked to their regular market research activities or organising capacity-building schemes for small and medium-sized enterprises. The Ugandan Ministry of Tourism Trade and Industry and the national tourist board, for example, helped to establish a training programme for community-based entrepreneurs (Victurine, 2000). National tourism bodies further have the opportunity to promote CBT by integrating it into their general marketing programmes. Instead of assisting CBT ventures directly, government bodies can also choose to support membership organisations or other institutions engaged in developing CBT. The Uganda Tourist Board was actively involved in the formation of UCOTA, the national organisation for CBT (Williams et al., 2001). Another facilitating, yet crucial, function of public institutions is the design of a supportive policy framework. This may encompass tenure regulations that allow communities to use natural resources, land-use planning that incorporates community interests, tourism standards that take account of the capacity of CBT enterprises as well as tourism licensing schemes that are accessible to local service providers (Ashley, 1998). The specific mandate of national tourism bodies does not usually allow for an involvement in alternative livelihood activities. However, tourism departments can link up with other government institutions, such as ministries for agriculture, forestry and social development, in order to integrate tourism into wider initiatives for rural development and poverty alleviation. Tourism-related investments in infrastructure development and capacity-building could benefit other economic sectors and vice versa. Yet, in practice such linkages between rural tourism and other livelihood options may be hampered by a lack of communication and conflicts over competences between different government departments. While tourism ministries draft policies that aim at promoting CBT, there tend to be problems at the implementation stage. A lack of continuous commitment to CBT development can be attributed to various factors. One reason is the importance that is attached to tourism as a development tool in some countries. Small-scale operations in rural areas do not seem to fit into the picture of an industry boosting national development. Similarly, external influences may shift government programmes towards encouraging large-scale investments. Despite their rhetoric of community-based ecotourism, countries such as Belize and Costa Rica have favoured large projects with perceived higher economic returns (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). The lack of policy implementation could also be a result of insufficient capacity at government level and political considerations. The Directorate of Tourism in Namibia has only a few staff members dealing with issues concerning CBT enterprises and conservancies. They are not in a position to respond effectively to the needs expressed
508 Kathrin Forstner by communities ranging from capacity-building and marketing to the settlement of boundary disputes. In addition, there has been a lack of legislation concerning tourism and communal lands and of co-ordination within and between different government ministries (Nicanor, 2001). 4.4 NGOs: filling in the gaps? Given the market failures evident in the rural areas of developing countries and the problems linked to the performance of public sector institutions, NGOs have gained a prominent role in rural development. They are perceived to be closer to the grassroots level and are involved in various community-based development programmes. Some NGOs have also adopted CBT as one of their areas of action. While there are institutions with different orientations and goals supporting CBT, including environmental organisations and tourism-related NGOs, this analysis will mainly focus on development organisations. The latter, such as the Dutch SNV, tend to view CBT as a means of generating additional income at community level. Small-scale tourism is thus developed as an alternative livelihood strategy in rural areas. One area of support for CBT initiatives is assistance in the development of tourism products, which may involve various activities. Non-profit institutions co-operating with communities can give advice on the design of tourism programmes and the adequate delivery of tourism services. To achieve the latter, training of community members is an essential component of support programmes. In terms of capacitybuilding at community level, NGOs appear to have a clear advantage. Without the constraining need to make a profit, they can afford to invest more time and resources in a process of gradually developing local capacity. This involves creating awareness of the potential benefits but also the problems of tourism development. Several NGOs assisted Namibian communities in developing local tourism products by providing business advice, loans and training opportunities and promoting joint ventures with the private sector (Ashley, 1998). With regard to the distribution of CBT products, non-profit institutions may follow different strategies. One option is to establish and strengthen linkages between CBT ventures and the tourism industry. Another option is to encourage and support the formation of CBT associations that act as marketing channels for individual tourism enterprises. Several NGOs that assisted Namibian communities in developing their own tourism products were involved in a national workshop, which then led representatives of CBT ventures to create NACOBTA (ibid.). In addition to strengthening the role of other intermediaries, non-profit institutions themselves may constitute marketing channels for CBT products. Targeting their members or supporters, non-profit organisations provide access to a clientèle which might be more responsive to CBT programmes than to other tourist groups. The Indonesian NGO Bina Swadaya, for example, has established Bina Swadaya Tours, a for-profit business that assists local ecotourism enterprises and organises tours to several projects (Sproule and Suhandi, 1998). Advocating the interests of local communities also involves measures aimed at reducing dependence on tourism as a source of income. Development organisations appear to have more expertise in exploring alternative livelihood options than other marketing intermediaries. The District Partners Programme of SNV in West Nepal, for
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products 509 example, pursues the goal of stimulating sustainable economic development initiatives. Its outputs, such as improvements of local infrastructure and capacity-building for community-based organisations, benefit not only tourism development but also other economic ventures (Saville, 2001). While NGOs are in a position to offer CBT initiatives valuable assistance, their role as a marketing intermediary is not without limitations. One critical factor is the financial situation of the organisation that co-operates with local communities. In particular, small, locally operating NGOs may face difficulties in securing the necessary resources for providing extensive marketing support and may depend to a large extent on donor funding. Other potential problems are linked to the non-profit character of NGOs. While it allows NGOs to engage in a slow process of gradually developing local capacity, the lack of profit-seeking could affect the quality of tourism products. Compared with private tourism companies, non-profit institutions tend to have less expertise in business development and tourism marketing. The Amadiba Trail in the Wild Coast region of South Africa, for example, was initiated by the local NGO Pondo Community Resources Optimisation Programme (PondoCROP). The NGO was responsible for product development and marketing of the tour programme. However, a review of the initiative identified a number of weaknesses with regard to marketing performance and led to a more commercial approach reducing the role of the NGO (Ntshona and Lahiff, 2003). Even though NGOs appear to show a relatively high degree of responsiveness to community needs, their values and priorities may sometimes conflict with the interests of communities and the economic viability of CBT ventures. Kosi Bay Camp, a community enterprise in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was developed with support from a local NGO. The latter laid strong emphasis on principles such as democracy and participation, but failed to tackle more practical constraints and to ensure the quality of the tourism product. The project eventually faltered due to poor management, internal rivalries and a lack of secure land tenure (Brennan and Allen, 2001). 5 Conclusion CBT ventures as rural businesses experience a number of constraints that may prevent them from reaching markets. Service providers at community level tend to lack the knowledge, business skills and resources required for marketing their tourism products. They further suffer from inadequate infrastructure and a lack of political power to lobby for policies needed to improve market conditions. Thus, CBT ventures and other smallscale businesses have common problems and both depend on some form of external support to market their products successfully. This role is assumed by intermediary institutions that provide a number of marketing-related services. When comparing marketing intermediaries in CBT with those focusing on other rural producers, a number of parallels but also some differences become evident. Private sector intermediaries can play an important role in facilitating market access by promoting competitive products. But since they are required to generate profits, they tend to operate in higher-potential areas. However, the relationship between service providers and private sector companies in tourism can be closer than in other rural
510 Kathrin Forstner sectors, particularly in the form of joint ventures. The constraints facing individual producers in more remote areas may be overcome by collective action through membership associations. CBT networks, similar to farmers’ associations, provide a range of marketing-related services to their members; yet they face a greater need to promote product diversification. Existing market failures also require public sector interventions. Even though tourism is generally portrayed as private-sector-driven, public investments in infrastructure, marketing support by parastatals and favourable policies can be instruments for assisting rural tourism entrepreneurs. When these instruments are not in place, NGOs attempt to fill the gaps by offering training as well as opportunities to access specialised markets. Yet, while these organisations can make a substantive contribution to CBT development through capacity-building at local level, the marketing of tourism services, which are generally more sophisticated than other rural products, requires a higher level of expertise than most NGOs can achieve. Based on the analysis in the previous sections, Table 1 summarises the key strengths and weaknesses of each category of intermediaries in CBT. Table 1: Potential strengths and weaknesses of marketing intermediaries Intermediary Strengths Weaknesses Private sector companies Possess market information and expertise in tourism marketing Lack expertise and interest in promoting alternatives to tourism Promote product quality Primarily interested in CBT with higher chances of market success Able to invest in local tourism infrastructure Provide access to higher-value segments of the market Have established distribution channels Discouraged by risks associated with using local service providers Provide access to international markets Lack experience in working with local communities May offer financial support for other community projects CBT associations Discouraged by slow process of capacity-building at community level Might take advantage of power imbalances Facilitate networking between individual CBT ventures Lack sufficient business and marketing skills May integrate individual products into programmes with higher chances of market success Lack financial sustainability Promote joint marketing Possess only limited capacity for directly facilitating access to international markets Are more likely to attract funding for marketing tasks May face difficulties in practice in treating members equally Provide advice on product design May suffer from conflicts between members Offer training programmes
The Role of Intermediaries in Marketing Rural Tourism Products Intermediary CBT associations (cont.) Strengths Establish linkages with the private sector Public sector Improves local infrastructure 511 Weaknesses Advocate interests of CBT at national level Creates favourable policy framework May encourage private sector involvement Can employ marketing instruments of national tourist boards May integrate CBT into national tourism product Lacks interest in small-scale tourism operations Has problems in implementing CBT policies Lacks capacity for promoting CBT development Suffers from a lack of co-ordination within and between public sector institutions Has capacity to integrate CBT into broader programmes for poverty alleviation Have experience in working with local communities Lack sufficient business and marketing skills Can develop capacity at community level Lack professionalism in developing tourism products Have information about and access to specific market segments May offer only limited support due to dependence on external funding Advise communities during negotiations with private sector Non-profit institutions Political interests may subvert CBT initiatives Values may conflict with commercial viability of CBT ventures Lobby for more responsible tourism and interests of local communities Are able to identify and develop alternative livelihood options Interests of NGOs and local communities may conflict May have capacity to strengthen the role of disadvantaged groups The findings presented in the table demonstrate that none of these institutions is likely to guarantee on its own the success of a CBT venture. Instead, there is a need for linking the activities of different marketing intermediaries in such a way that they complement each other and maximise benefits for CBT initiatives. In practice, the design of such a supportive framework will depend on the existing potential for tourism development, including factors like natural and cultural attractions, accessibility, infrastructure and human resources. Communities with high tourism potential and strong organisational structures may be able to attract the support of private tourism companies. These can assist at different stages in the marketing process and offer the opportunity of targeting higher-value market segments. NGOs should then adopt a facilitating and advisory role. But, if the existing tourism potential is limited, NGOs may have to assume more responsibility for the development and marketing of CBT products. Consequently, the CBT ventures will more likely be small-scale, targeting
512 Kathrin Forstner individual travellers or visitors associated with the supporting institution. However, such low-value operations may help to build the necessary capacity for future cooperation with private tourism companies. Where several tourism initiatives have been established, support for individual enterprises could be channelled through CBT associations. The public sector needs to design policies that facilitate the co-operation of CBT ventures and other intermediaries and should complement their marketing efforts by employing the instruments of national tourism bodies. While there is a need for policies specifically targeting tourism ventures and their capacity to contribute to local development, they should be integrated into wider policy frameworks concerned with rural development. Tourism initiatives cannot be considered as existing independently from other livelihood activities. The latter may be positively or negatively affected by CBT programmes and may also provide the basis on which such tourism ventures are built. Furthermore, tourism has only limited potential for securing rural livelihoods. It can only complement, but not substitute for, other sources of income. Thus, interventions like infrastructure programmes and technical assistance should attempt to improve market conditions for other rural producers as well. Only if CBT is placed into the wider context of local development can its potential as a development tool be unlocked. first submitted February 2004 final revision accepted June 2004 References Abbott, J. C. (1987) ‘Institutional Reform of Marketing and Related Services to Agriculture, With Particular Reference to Africa’, Agricultural Economics 1: 14357. Agrawal, A. and Gibson, C. (1999) ‘Enchantment and Disenchantment: The Role of Community in Natural Resource Conservation’, World Development 27 (4): 62949. Ashley, C. (1998) ‘Tourism, Communities and National Policy: Namibia’s Experience’, Development Policy Review 16 (4): 323-52. Ashley, C., Boyd, C. and Goodwin, H. (2000) Pro-Poor Tourism: Putting Poverty at the Heart of the Tourism Agenda. Natural Resource Perspectives No. 51. London: Overseas Development Institute. Ashley, C. and Jones, B. (2001) ‘Joint Ventures between Communities and Tourism Investors: Experience in Southern Africa’, International Journal of Tourism Research 3 (5): 407-23. Braman, S. and Fundación Acción Amazonia (2001) Practical Strategies for Pro-Poor Tourism: TROPIC Ecological Adventures – Ecuador. Pro-Poor Tourism Working Paper No. 6. London: Centre for Responsible Tourism at the University of Greenwich, International Institute for Environment and Development and Overseas Development Institute. Brennan, F. and Allen, G. (2001) ‘Community-based Ecotourism, Social Exclusion and the Changing Political Economy of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’, in D. Harrison (ed.), Tourism and the Less Developed World: Issues and Case Studies. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.
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