Over the past forty years, community based tourism (CBT) ventures have been a popular means to address conservation and development needs at the local level. Although different methodologies have been applied over the past four decades, CBT projects were often based on the need to implement an environmental conservation initiative with socio-economic development. This trend was particularly relevant in third-world countries, in communities that were located in and around protected environmental areas. As a result, CBT became widely adopted on the basis of local communities being involved with, and the benefactors of, these conservation and development initiatives.
Since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the inclusion of local communities in the decision-making process, within the implementation process, and sharing the advantages of certain development initiatives and their evaluation have been emphasized. In 1978, The International Tourism Congress met in Marmaris, Turkey to the theme of New Perspectives and Policies. At the forefront of the agenda for the International Tourism Congress was to evaluate advances in tourism planning and strategy. Therefore, two of the four main areas discussed included tourism planning and tourism and regional development. As a result of tourism planning and implementation strategies evolving and through the appreciation of new outlooks in the tourism industry, academics and practitioners were increasingly exploring the fundamentals behind proper application.
During the 1980s, local residents were seen as a key component to a sustainable approach to tourism development. In 1985, Peter Murphy released his publication Tourism: A Community Approach during a very influential period in tourism development. Murphy’s book served as a catalyst for future studies on the concept of how communities needed to approach tourism development in an effort to satisfy their local needs. Within Murphy’s 1985 publication, he accentuated how each community was to relate their particular tourism development plan to their specific local needs.
In 1987, community participation in development initiatives gained additional support with the release of the World Commission on Environment and Development’s (WCED) Brundtland Report, which emphasized the need for sustainability and sustainable development initiatives. The evolution of CBT was greatly influenced by the adoption of global policies to use tourism as a tool to eradicate, or to assist in the diminishment of global poverty that was being experienced within the world’s poorest countries.
At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development’s Earth Summit held in Rio De Janeiro, 178 countries adopted Agenda 21, which outlined how host communities should handle the interaction between tourism and the community, which was seen as essential for sustainable development initiatives. An additional outcome of the Earth Summit was ‘co-management,’ which encouraged national and local governments, civic organizations, and local communities to all share the responsibility of natural resource management. This new approach of ‘co-management’ was recognized by international development agencies and was in contrast to earlier development models that were aimed at resource control and handled by state agencies.
In 1999, debate was occurring over how the world’s poorest countries should progress with incorporating tourism developmental plans. The key question raised was whether poverty stricken countries should proceed with a ‘Tourism First’ approach or try to implement a ‘Development First’ strategy. The difference between the two styles is that ‘Tourism First’ focuses planning initiatives on developing the tourism industry and “Development First” focuses on planning around national development needs. Around this time attention was brought to the misguided practices and recommendations often being implemented by tourism consultancy firms. The result of these practices resulted in impoverished countries and its residents suffering as a result of false hopes imposed on them by their governments and consultants through ineffective planning processes.
In 2004, Peter and Ann Murphy released a follow-up publication to Peter Murphy’s 1985 success, entitled Strategic Management for Tourism Communities: Bridging the Gap. The aim of the 2004 book was geared towards trying to explain the importance of greater collaboration between stakeholders within tourism focusing on community development. One of the key points of the text was to emphasize the point that communities would be better off if they followed management principles and implement a strategic management focus. Within the book, Murphy and Murphy (2004) offer a conjoined model for tourism development incorporating business management and collaborative planning. In relation to the evolution of CBT, the need to start applying strategic management concepts to CBT operations has been recognised and accepted for over a decade.