My story of community-led tourism

Ethnomad
5 min readNov 5, 2020

This is the story of how as a designer I see and work to promote community-led tourism:

Design is not only about the space, we design the social experience, the social impact, the social change.

Here is where my story starts:

I am an architectural designer whose passion is not designing physical spaces (any more) rather is designing for social impact.

I was always inspired by the idea of ecological justice and it’s been a while I have been centered my practice on using my capacity as a designer and my enthusiasm for vernacular knowledge and culture, to create opportunities that local communities can play their key roles in ecosystem equity. That’s right, “ecosystem” equity; where human society lives within natural limits in balanced relation with all its elements.

I had the opportunity to spend time in many rural and indigenous communities; exploring, volunteering, working, and designing for/with them. I was inspired by the stories of their ancestors’ knowledge about their surroundings and how they could come up with simple but effective solutions to maintain a mutually beneficial yet balanced relationship with their environment. I was amazed by how every aspect of lives of these people; their foods, cloths, songs, lullabies, ceremonies, artifacts, agriculture, and architecture, used to be inspired by their natural surroundings

But, that amazing picture was one shot of a long story. I also have a first-hand observation of how this balance has been seriously affected by poverty. The malfunctioning system of power relationship that we have practiced for years -under different flags and now under capitalism- has created such an unjust distribution of wealth, deep socio-economic gaps, and cultural alienation that has turned the same people who for years have lived in balance with their surroundings, into agents of destruction. I observed this transformation, perhaps not as much as David Attenborough has witnessed, but enough to show me the scary picture of our future planet.

And here we are, at a point that ecological and socioeconomic ‘Karma’s of our practices have caught us, every one of us, and every moment of our lives. Yet, still, I strongly believe that local communities can play the role of our ‘guru’ in finding solution to stop this unbalanced and unjust condition. They are amazingly resourceful. What they need is the space to let them shine. I believe design can claim this space if acts as a medium for co-creation and co-powerment. We don’t need to sit in Silicon Valley to bring new ideas, what we need is to roll-up our sleeves and get engaged with communities. We need solutions that collectively created , tested, implemented with local communities and is governed by them.

Hospitality and creativity can be great channels to visualize locally-driven solutions, and give them visibility. Plus, through business models that are based on community-led creativity and hospitality, more socioeconomic values can be created within local context (compare it with models that seeking to re-distribute created values, such as corporate social responsibility schemes).

There are always ways to increase shared values created by a community-driven solution through ‘products’ or ‘services’ that geared toward hospitality and creativity experiences, even though the original solution might not seem a good fit for this area at the first place. For example if an indigenous community starts running a fishing cooperative, using some of their old but efficient and sustainable fishing techniques, how much this solution can be better heard and impact other communities if being shared through ‘stories’ and ‘experiences’? How much added value can be created for this local initiative if instead of selling their fish, they offer the experience of ‘cooking local fish recipes together’, or offer the experience of ‘fishing with local fishermen’, or offer locally-run events around local stories about fishing? Or if the community, for any reason including situations like novel pandemic, do not want or are not able to receive visitors, how about creating community-led catering co-op to cook and deliver high quality fresh food? How about running virtual storytelling, music, art and creativity workshops based on old and modern stories of fish and fishermen. How about creating a workshop to teach about how river, fish, animals like bears that are natural fish hunters, have found their ways in traditional moral teachings and healing practices. How about creating virtual competitions or events, branding as ‘fish and niche’ or ‘recipes and stories’, How about virtual cooking classes for indigenous recipes? How about establishing a locally-driven platforms to provide logistics, market access, or virtual audience for these locally-run ideas?

That’s only a few of super powers of community-led creativity and hospitality, and a designer can be the agent of local communities to co-create these experiences; services; products, or the logistics need for this solutions to thrive; in fact, to co-design a solution for ecosystem equity using the medium of local experience, creativity, stories, food, etc.

Now with Covid-19 still at our doors, many local communities that practiced community-led tourism have been seriously affected. It seems that now tourism industry finally should sit and learn their lessons. Design and creativity can be their change agent in this transitional process. It doesn’t mean that previous ideas and solution were not credible or no longer work, rather it means that adaptability, diversity, and resiliency should be central to any future pivoting.

And in this transition, there is a great opportunity for co-creativity, i.e., to sit with local communities and brainstorm how these valuable experiences and resources that have been already capitalized in tourism activities can be pivoted to innovative forms of creativity and hospitality products, services, and experience that meet emerging desires and needs. And let’s this time make sure that we place the desire of the local community on top of the tourism market demand. Tourism market desires exploring (end exploiting) every corner of the world, maybe it’s not the destination community’s priority or interest to receive visitors, maybe they are too impacted by being dependent solely on tourism receipt that they are now seeking other business ideas that can channel their assets, and knowledge and skill-sets they previously put in tourism.

Again the solution rises in and with community, we designers can be agents to claim the space for this emerging solutions to get shape, and become tested and implemented by community themselves. Creativity will be amplified when people are energized, motivated, and engaged. I believe as a designer, I should work as the accelerator of mind power and creativity for local people. I use design as a mean to visualize, strategize, empathize with them and tell their stories collectively.

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Ethnomad

My name is Marveh. I am a co-creation savvy. I love sharing stories about People, Land, Roots and Design.