“ Tourism industry, in every community, will always gather promoters and opponents. It is very important to understand the reasons that move some people to refuse tourism, clarify misunderstandings and plan how to include them into the destination ”
Marcello Gandolfi is a Community Based Tourism Expert specialised in designing, managing and implementing tourism and development programs in close partnership with civil society organisations, private and public actors of the travel industry value chain. Based in Lima, between 2010 and 2013 he implemented a sustainable tourism program linking 3,000 tourism SMEs to the main tour operators in the Andean region. Funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and CAF, the program established the first regional route of Sustainable Tourism in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and generated 1.5 million euros in sales of community tourism experiences. As Project Director of CODESPA Foundation since 2013 he is responsible for the global implementation of economic development programs in 11 Asian, African and Latin America Countries. Key projects at CODESPA involved designing a method for integrating communities into tourism value chains (RUTAS) and the MICE sector. The relevant training, marketing and quality standards that he developed are now in use by local governments and Ministries of Tourism. Since 2017, as an UNWTO Academy Trainer, he teaches public officers of Latin America Ministries of Tourism on how to integrate communities with tourism. Mr Gandolfi holds a BSc in Economics and International Organisations Management (Luigi Bocconi University), a Master of International Development and Cooperation (University of Bologna) and a Master of Business Administration and Emotional Intelligence (EAE Business School of Barcelona).
Ecoclub: What attracted you to Community Based Tourism (CBT) and what is your personal, short definition of CBT? What is its unique selling point?
Marcello Gandolfi: I was firstly attracted to Community Based Tourism for professional reasons. I am an economist working on market-based solutions for poverty, and I saw tourism as a great social and economic development opportunity for vulnerable communities living close to main travel destinations. To me, CBT is a type of tourism that involves local communities managing and developing their own tourism industry, whereby travellers can experience the community's way of life and consider their impacts upon the destination they are visiting. Its unique selling point nowadays is CBT match with XXI century travellers’ mega trends: human connection experience, cultural heritage discovery, active tourism and learning, will to have a positive impact into destination.
Ecoclub: What are the key elements of the RUTAS Methodology that you developed to link the private sector with host communities?
Marcello Gandolfi: RUTAS tries to involve rural communities in the travel sector under a market-based approach, without losing sustainability. It has three key elements. First, It supports communities to reach quality standards, that dovetail with travellers and private sector expectations, and maintain authenticity and sustainability of the CBT experience. Second, it helps communities attain sustainable market access through the establishment of CBT tour operators, directly managed by local communities. RUTAS supports the communities so that they directly distribute their CBT offer in the travel market. Third, RUTAS helps communities achieve strategic partnerships with the private and the public sector, so to be able to complement CBT with the rest of the travel experiences that are offered in the destination.
Ecoclub: From your experience, in which cases are public-private partnerships, rather than cooperative or private ownership, the preferred vehicle for developing sustainable tourism in a community?
Marcello Gandolfi: One of CBT operations’ main causes of failure, is that they used to work on tourism alone, trying to compete in a tremendously complex industry such as tourism. Strategic partnerships with the private and public sector are very useful in order to support CBT operations to achieve a better integration into the travel industry. The private sector can support CBT operations through market analysis and information distribution networks, stable income and knowledge transfer for marketing; the public sector can support CBT operation through the improvement of logistics and road accessibility, basic services (water, energy, connectivity) and destination promotion. With this kind of support, CBT operation can be integrated competitively into the destination, and overcome those barriers that due to their lack of capacity and investment, are sometimes preventing them to access to the travel industry.
Ecoclub: As an UNWTO specialised Trainer in CBT Destinations are there any common problems that you have to overcome in all destinations? Does the solution vary considerably?
Marcello Gandolfi: There are some common challenges that CBT destinations face; I would summarise them as following:
1. Supply driven experiences: CBT entrepreneurs don’t have market intelligence facilities and usually don’t know how to respond to travellers expectations. This ends up in products and experiences that do not respond to market demand.
2. Lack of capacity for providing services: CBT operations are usually run and implemented by people that are not used to provide tourism services; mainly, since they’re located in rural areas, the majority of CBT entrepreneurs come from agriculture and don’t know what providing and selling tourism experiences implies.
3. Lack of commercialisation facilities; the majority of CBT operation focus on providing services to travellers, without considering the marketing phase of tourism. This ends up in very low access to market.
4. Lack of cooperation with other strategic partners: CBT experiences will never be able to cover the entire expectations of a traveller; CBT is usually a complementary type of tourism with other products that travellers are looking for (main archaeological attraction, relax, beach, entertainment, shopping etc.). Offering only CBT experiences is not enough for the modern travellers’ expectations, so partnerships with other services providers is needed.
The solution for these challenges doesn’t vary considerable among CBT destinations and includes market analysis prior to CBT product design, capacity building under market approach, capacity building for selling and marketing tourism, and partnerships with the private sector (mainly travel agencies and tour operators).
Ecoclub: Most of us would accept that Tourism, community based or not, should meet the real needs of a community and society at large, but at the same time most would doubt that communities ever get to have a say as to whether tourism, and what type of tourism, arrives on their doorstep. Is there a need for a standardised mechanism (an international legal framework or at least UNWTO guidelines) when the community does not want Tourism, or when they no longer want it, in the light of the recent Overtourism controversy?
Marcello Gandolfi: Tourism industry, in every community, will always gather promoters and opponents. It is very important to understand the reasons that move some people to refuse tourism, clarify misunderstandings and plan how to include them into the destination. This, should be done at the beginning of each tourism project, and will help to understand if tourism non-acceptance is coming from real concerns about the destinations or envy for not being part of it. In the first case, concerns about the destination and its sustainability by the local population should be considered when planning the tourism strategy of the destination; for example, defining together what kind of travellers should be expected, what kind of experiences should be provided and what amount of visitors the destination will be able to serve. These criteria should drive the design of experience, market approach and price strategy of the destination.
In the second case, many times people are opposing tourism because they are not part of it and they do not receive any benefit from this industry; solutions should be found creating direct benefits from tourism, even for those that are not part of it. For example, a percentage of total revenue generated through tourism could be designated for those of the community that don’t provide services to travellers, asking them in return to conserve the destinations environment; or certain amount could be assigned to the improvement of infrastructures, basic services and other public facilities in the community, through common agreements with the public authorities.
Ecoclub: Whose responsibility is it ultimately to design and package Community Based Tourism Experiences and what are the common pitfalls?
Marcello Gandolfi: Tourism product design and packaging is a complex duty that should be prepared by tourism experts coming from the travel industry, together with the community. The collaboration between the private sector and the community will be useful in order to ensure market approach when designing packages, one of the key factor for CBT sustainability as I mentioned earlier. Many CBT initiatives lack of access to market because the experiences they offer are not responding to travellers expectations. Achieving partnerships with responsible travel agencies and tour operators will help them design services that on one side respect their culture and authenticity and on the other side, will be guaranteed in terms of market access. One of the key factors in this kind of partnerships would be achieving agreements with responsible tour operators/agencies and try to avoid an exclusive contract with them.
Ecoclub: Since 2013, you are responsible for Fundacion CODESPA's projects in 11 African, Asian and Latin American countries. If you were to choose your favourite project, which one would it be and why?
Marcello Gandolfi: One of my favourite project was implemented in Cusco, Peru, between 2013 and 2015, supported by the European Union. The central idea of the project was to support CBT entrepreneurs to provide professional services to the MICE sector; this, would include coffee breaks, souvenirs, convention services and post tours. It was an innovative project where rather than impulse the reception of travellers in the community, we stimulated rural entrepreneurs to export their services to the city, to hotels, restaurants and convention centres that are organising events and professional meetings. The idea captured the attention of many private partners in the city of Cusco, helped local communities to diversify their services to the travel industry, and promoted a more inclusive MICE sector.
Ecoclub: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring Community Based Tourism Consultants? Is there an ideal route for them to gain experience?
Marcello Gandolfi: My main recommendation would be to start with volunteering on the field in some CBT operation, in order to understand the main constraints of this type of initiatives. After that, I would recommend studying a short course on Sustainable Tourism or Development and Cooperation; both are really required in all the applications for this kind of jobs. And finally, look for opportunities in specialised websites, such as Ecoclub, Idealist and UNWTO listings.