These days the term 'ecotourism' is a buzz word used to describe all sorts of tourist activities. But at its core, it should be about responsible travel to natural areas that helps conserve the environment and improve the well-being of local people (TIES, 1990). Community-based-tourism (CBT) is a type of ecotourism and the perfect way to spend a few days when holidaying on the Kenyan Coast.
CBT is about local communities coming together to conserve their natural environments, preserve their culture and traditions and earn some additional money from tourism. If that's not reason enough to want to investigate what's on oﬀer, CBT also oﬀers visitors authentic experiences and a chance to engage with locals on their own terms within an environment of exchange and mutual respect.
There are projects running up and down the Kenyan coast, where community members have come together to harness tourism as a means to fund conservation eﬀorts and to generate much needed employment. For example, in Diani, visitors can explore the mangroves along the Kongo river during a canoe ride and village tour organised by the Mwakamba Jitegemee Youth Group. Further south in Gazi there's the opportunity to learn all about the importance of mangroves, discover the beautiful surroundings and enjoy local delicacies during a boardwalk tour provided by the women of the community.
But here we're going to discover the Dabaso Conservation Group working alongside the Mida Creek Conservation Community (MCCC), located in an idyllic setting near Dabaso village, to fully appreciate the amazing the potential of CBT. The Mida Creek community used to be aﬀected by problems such as illegal logging and ﬁshing. In response, MCCC was set up in 2000 to help raise awareness about these issues amongst the local community
and to initiate conservation activities such as mangrove replanting and beach clean-ups.
To ensure long term sustainability for its conservation and community engagement activities, MCCC needed to think creatively about how to generate an income. Due to their beautiful surroundings, tourism was identiﬁed as a key part of the income generating strategy.
Today, tourists can stroll along the mangrove boardwalk, be amazed by the abundance of birds and enjoy a spectacular sunset before tucking into delicious seafood platters at Mida Creek's Crab Shack restaurant. There's also the opportunity to further enjoy the mangroves on a guided canoe ride or to visit the Sita Community Snake Farm, initially set up educate the local community about the area's snakes and reptiles.
And in addition to all the fun activities to be enjoyed by tourists, there are the positive impact these activities generate. More than 200 local families directly beneﬁt from the tourist activities through employment, and MCCC also has programmes in place to support the wider community. For example, they set up Dabaso ﬁsh farm and use the income from the ﬁsh to pay teachers at the local school. They also have a no interest loan scheme to help
parents support their children through higher education.
The ongoing success of all CBT initiatives and the conservation and community programmes they support depend on tourists themselves. Marketing is unfortunately a skill many of these projects lack, but spending a little extra time investigating what's on oﬀer is deﬁnitely worth the eﬀort. This type of tourism truly is a win-win proposition for hosts and guests alike.