Community-based tourism & gender equality

Learn more about CBT and the positive impacts on local communities


Tourism and gender equality

Nowadays, there are a lot of organisations that increasingly focus on contributing to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). These goals are created to set a universal standard to tackle ongoing problems in the world that are related to the environment, politics and economy. The tourism industry can contribute to all of them in several ways, including SDG no. 5: gender equality. 

In general, the tourism industry is seen as a sector that can easily provide jobs for both men and women. This is also shown in the statistics provided by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). According to the UNWTO, the tourism sector is dominated by women (54%), which is in strong contrast with the broader global economy where women only account for 39%. Therefore, it is often said that this makes the tourism industry very important to empower women, because it will impact a large number of the population. However, in many cases men are left out of the industry. This article explores how men and women can both benefit from tourism equally.

The Kayan in Huay Pu Keng

In many ethnic cultures, the women attract tourists as they carry their culture through the way they dress. This is certainly the case in Huay Pu Keng, Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand, where several subgroups of the Karenni people live. 

The village is home to people from the Kayan, Kayaw, Red Karen, Pakayor and Tai Yai tribe who all have their unique cultures. This tribe is also referred to as longnecks as they are famous for the brass rings the women wear around their necks. As you can imagine, these women are the main tourist attraction. 

Before 2014, the region was comprised of mostly women working in tourism, rather than men. This was due to their exotic appearance and cultural dress.

Mu Tae with her daughter in Huay Pu Keng
Mu Tae with her daughter in Huay Pu Keng

Introducing community-based tourism

The introduction of community-based tourism in the village has changed how tourism is organised and who is involved. 

Fair Tourism Foundation explains that Community-Based Tourism, also known as CBT, is a more sustainable and culturally aware form of tourism. Tourism should involve the community in an interactive way, bringing tourists and the community together. This is an important aspect that provides tourists with an opportunity to become culturally aware of local customs and traditions without exploiting them or viewing the locals as an attraction. 

These people are often part of a marginalized and poor population living in rural areas. They are also deeply connected to the land, the environment and the history of the region. There is so much they can teach visitors and share with travellers, enriching the experience for both the community and the visitor.

Brass bracelet making workshop in Huay Pu Keng
Brass bracelet making workshop in Huay Pu Keng

Male empowerment through Community-Based Tourism

Before CBT initiatives were implemented in the region, most of the tourists only came to Huay Pu Keng to have their picture taken with the women and, in some cases, to buy a souvenir. The time spent in the village was very short and therefore, the jobs generated from tourism were limited. However, with the introduction of CBT, more job opportunities arose.

The community decided which aspects of their culture they are proud of and wanted to share with tourists. Based on this, several workshops were created. You can now learn how to weave, make a bamboo cup, participate in a nature hike and many other activities. Therefore, the women are not the central element of the tourist experience anymore, but the entire community is. Capacity has been built to provide the men  interested in tourism with a job as well. They could, for example, be involved in receiving guests, guiding or hosting workshops. These jobs can provide both men and women with pride and belonging.

Internationally, the tourism industry often empowers women. However, in the case of Huay Pu Keng, it is the men that receive a job opportunity through the community-based tourism model. In this model, there is no place for inequality, especially gender inequality. The entire community is empowered to make their own decisions. The local population also contributes to the community’s tourism product where equality between host and guest is placed at the forefront. This results in a community that is balanced, sustainable and filled with pride.

Ma Pang weaving a scarf in Huay Pu Keng
Ma Pang weaving a scarf in Huay Pu Keng

Immersive travel with a positive impact

Well-organized Community-Based Tourism projects can truly make a difference to local communities and they are often the highlight of a vacation for travellers. Learn more about CBT and the many projects supported by the Fair Tourism Foundation on their website.

Charlotte doing a bamboo cup making workshop in Huay Pu Keng
Charlotte from Fair Tourism Foundation doing a bamboo cup making workshop in Huay Pu Keng

This article was written by Kim de Leeuw and Charlotte Louwman-Vogels from Fair Tourism Foundation. The Fair Tourism team works enthusiastically on sustainable tourism, where nature is protected and the local people are actively involved as we believe that this is the only way we can keep the world beautiful for us and many generations to come.

Their aim is to raise awareness about sustainable tourism through workshops at educational institutions and by assisting communities to develop community-based tourism (CBT).

To learn more about the work of Fair Tourism, you can connect on Instagram (@fairtourismfoundation), Facebook (Fair Tourism), YouTube (Fair Tourism) and LinkedIn (Fair Tourism Foundation).