The product or tourist experience on offer is the foundation of any successful CBT venture. Without a marketable product, there is no reason for the visitors to come and CBT will not be viable. Identifying, developing, and sustaining the tourism product is therefore one of the most critical aspects of running a successful CBT operation. To build a successful CBT operation, the product on offer should reflect a shared community vision and be shaped by the objectives the community is seeking to achieve. To be successful, experience has shown that product development should involve the participation of community members including women and young people. A ‘do no harm’ approach informed by the identification of potential risks and pitfalls should be taken to ensure CBT does not result in unintended adverse impacts on the social fabric of the community or the surrounding environment.
This should begin with a process to identify the community features or assets of a destination. These may include natural physical features (e.g. waterfalls, forest, hot springs) and/or social and cultural assets and strengths (e.g. local hospitality, crafts and cultural festivals). The tourism product will likely be built around these natural and/or cultural assets. Making an inventory of these features will provide a starting point for the community to determine what tourist experience they want to offer.
Align assets with community objectives
Developing a tourism product is not just about identifying and selling environmental or cultural assets. Determining what kind of experience a community will offer to visitors needs to consider assets alongside community objectives. Identifying objectives, which might include income generation, conservation, skills development and cultural exchange, will help the community to work out what should be on offer and processes for developing and managing the CBT venture (CBT vision, objectives, and planning).
Build products from assets
Once the community assets and objectives have been identified the next stage is to define how selected assets can provide the foundation of a tourism ‘product’. For example, cultural sites and traditions alone do not constitute a product, however, when offered as an experience for visitors including appropriate interpretation (of landscapes and cultural sites) these assets can make the community an attractive destination.
Ensure meaningful community participation in product development
Experience has shown that the best CBT operations are built from a process whereby the community undergoes a participatory process to identify objectives for their CBT venture. Objectives need to include goals relating to sustaining key features of the community and avoiding the potential negative impacts of tourism when poorly designed and managed. This is often used in CBT ventures that have a strong conservation focus.
Managing expectations of the tourism product
Communities need to manage the expectations of visitors. Some visitors can have unrealistic expectations about the extent to which they will be able to spend time with host communities, the standard of accommodation and food on offer etcetera. When developing the CBT product, ensure it is described in realistic terms to potential visitors. It is necessary to inform visitors prior to their arrival of what to expect in relation to the type of food offered and also the standard of accommodation. Pictures and testimonials can also convey this type of information to the visitor so they have an idea of what to expect.