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Anu Kumari Lama, Tashi Dorji & Sushmita Kunwar
4 mins Read
Tourism is a priority sector for national and local governments across Bhutan, India, and Nepal in the Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL). The landscape’s rich natural and cultural heritage, its mountains, forests, agrobiodiversity, cultural traditions, local food, and the ways of life of diverse ethnic groups provide unique attractions for tourists. Such unique offerings not only bring tourists closer to nature, culture and community, but also provide income and employment opportunities for host communities and promote community-based enterprise.
Our transboundary Kangchenjunga Landscape and Conservation Development Initiative (KLCDI) was established with the mission of promoting conservation and sustainable development through regional collaboration in the three countries. Given this mandate, KLCDI is rightly positioned to facilitate and provide a platform to promote sustainable regional tourism cooperation through interventions at the transboundary level, especially community-based tourism and transboundary tourism circuits.
Homestays are important community-based tourism products. They are a rapidly emerging form of tourism accommodation services, providing economic benefits to host families and communities through the use of family homes as traditional lodgings. In the Khangchendzonga Landscape, homestays are mostly operated and managed by women. In fact, women of all ages, from grandmothers to granddaughters, collectively contribute towards operating the services, thus leading to greater and inclusive economic participation of women in the tourism enterprise. There is a growing demand for such tourism. In Bhutan, it is estimated that 68% of the population travels for experience of rural life, Dzongkhags, and festivals. In India, the annual growth for homestay-based tourism in the travel market range from 11-11.5 %.
To develop and promote community homestays, KLCDI focused on promoting homestay-based community tourism as one of the prioritized activities from 2016. Over the last five years, a total of 107 homestays – 70 in Bhutan, 18 in India, and 19 in Nepal – have benefitted through collaborative partnerships among government, private sector, and community. Using regional cooperation and networks as a strategic entry point, the scope for community-based homestays and tourism was explored and the development process underwent several phases (Figure 1).
Our pilot intervention in 2016-2019 focused on diversifying tourism products, enhancing capacity, and linking homestay operators with ancillary services – to create jobs, improve incomes, support enterprise development, and promote inclusive growth and equitable benefit sharing. This was done through preparation of destination management plans and their integration into government plans of action, practice-based peer to peer learning opportunities through exposure visits, training and skill enhancement activities, and linking with income generation and enterprise development across different supply chains (handicrafts, food, guiding and interpretation).
With a successful pilot intervention phase, the scope and scale of homestay development has now expanded across the KL. From 2022 on, the focus will be on clustering and packaging of community-based tourism products such as homestay circuit development andenabling access to tourism markets and platforms through public-private-community participation. Bumthang-Wangdue Phodrang-Haa-Chhukha, Bhutan; Lachen/Lachung-Dzongu-Rumtek-Yuksom (Sikkim) and Samanden-Gorkhey-Phalut-Sandakphu-Darjeeling-Kalimpong (West Bengal),India ;and Maipokhari-Dobato-Jaubari-Meghma(Ilam) and Phalelung (Panchthar), Nepal have great potential to be developed as transboundary community homestay circuits through regional cooperation. The potential of such community-based tourism products also extends beyond the landscape. For instance, there are strong cross border community and heritage-based tourism linkages between KL India and Bangladesh, in particular the Paharpur Buddhist Circuit. Furthermore, the rhododendron circuits of Yuksom-Dzongri and Hiley-Barsey in the KL can be promoted for nature enthusiasts.
Stakeholders across Bhutan, India and Nepal have forged partnerships and work is already underway to develop and package homestay circuits, promote, and market homestays through online platforms, build capacity to strengthen institutional and operational aspects of homestay management, and establish a homestay network.
In Bhutan, activities have already begun with resources being leveraged from Bumthang, Wangdue Phodrang, Haa and Chhukha Dzongkhags, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO). In India, collaboration with the Govind Ballabh Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment (GBPNIHE), Mutanchi Lom Aal Shezum (MLAS), Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT) and Help Tourism Pvt Ltd is being strengthened. Likewise, in Nepal, co-designing and co-development of products and packages for transboundary community homestay circuit is being initiated in collaboration with the Community Homestay Network (CHN), Red Panda Network, Maipokhari-Deurali Community Homestay Committee, Mabu-Dobato Community Homestay Committee, Phalelung-Panchthar Ecotourism Committee, and the Sandakphu and Mai Jogmai Rural Municipalities.
Homestays have become a promising avenue to support rural economic diversification by offering tourists diverse products and services, including local food, organic and dairy produce, and the experience of rural farms and hospitality. The growing interest of youth in tourism and the support of local government, private sector, community and ICIMOD and its partners have been instrumental in community homestay tourism development in the landscape. With the pandemic ushering in new opportunities and prospects for and demand from domestic and regional tourism markets, rural destinations, and community-based tourism products such as homestays are gaining a foothold in the mainstream tourism market.
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