Community tourism of excellence

Community tourism is an economic activity that rural communities face in order to generate incomes that complement those that come from agricultural activity and they do so by upgrading their cultural resources and ecosystem. The community controls a significant share of results generated by the touristic activity and decides its allocation for productive and social activities within their territory. Tourism constitutes an opportunity for the community to share with visitors its traditions, customs and perspectives on life and nature, emphasizing the diversity of existing identities and making the touristic episode an experience of fuller and deeper significance. What we analyze in these lines is community tourism of excellence, actually that ‘aspires to excellence’, to indicate that it is about offering tourism of human quality, tourism that transforms those who experience it due to being exposed to different values and conducts than those of the society they come from. It is not the excellence of luxury or simple comfort, although the visitor is entitled to a satisfying comfort threshold so that he can approach the community experience well predisposed. It is about excellence regarding the relevance of the offered experience; excellence regarding the attitude in which the visitor is greeted; excellence regarding what it contributes to the community’s own development, reflection and its members’ formation; excellence in organization and management of the touristic activity; excellence as to intangible and tangible results; excellence concerning the application and better use of those results.

It is in order to clarify this perspective to differentiate it from another type of excellence that only refers to the economic outcome. That other perspective considers an activity to be excellent if it has high profit margins not considering whether it harms, ignores or destructs. From that point of view, profits are determinant, and the rest merely ways of enabling that maximum profit.

Needless to say community tourism of excellence does not give up nor turns its back on attaining fair incomes since it is through them that the community can improve its services of health, education, nutrition, accommodation, cultural activities, employment, creativity and innovation. The difference lies in that community tourism is not based on greed and the exploitation of others, it intends to strengthen community bonds instead of weakening them, it does not propose spreading leisure activities tainted by alienation; it respects the person visiting them; it considers the economic and financial as inexcusable but not dominant dimensions of the action of creating and producing a tourism that is both significant and protective of the ecosystem.

Contents and their impact

In the context of getting to know remarkable natural spaces, communities offer a mix (better or worse achieved) of leisure and reflections for their visitors, such as guided walks or horseback riding through paths unknown to them; night bonfires where legends and life stories are told and community initiatives are shared engaging in intercultural dialogues of mutual interest; invitations the community offers its visitors to participate in popular meetings that enable experiencing local cultural expressions (music, dancing, popular theatre, crafts); nutrition based on local gastronomy with culinary practices suited for visitors; adventure tourism in rivers, lakes and mountains; local fauna and flora sightseeing excursions; leisure time in an environment suitable for reflection, writing or reading without the distractions or tensions of everyday life in big cities; healthy exercises and environmental care practices, among other activities.

While selecting and programming activities offered to visitors, communities reflect and add significance to ancestral values, recuperate their history and knowledge and share them with their young, reinforce their self-esteem and entrepreneurial capacity, exercise their own way of thinking, of taking initiative, of living their own spirituality.

Management: effectiveness and significance

In some cases, a community organization is strong in its political-representative role because it has the support of the community members but it is relatively weaker regarding management, particularly when it comes to developing and conducting economic ventures. Quite a few communities have been historically postponed and left behind in commercial contacts and access to modern management mechanisms. The challenge is adapting those modern forms of management to the community’s idiosyncrasy, needs and goals in a way that preserves their communitarian identity, their values, traditions, perspectives on the economy and the environment. It is about developing management of excellence that overcomes mediocre modalities adopted due to lack of information or specialized knowledge and that, through its effectiveness and results, will strengthen community cohesion and determination.

This leads to adopting a way of management that can also successfully overcome the tremendous restrictions that small scale imposes upon any productive venture. Greater scale facilitates accessing a higher threshold of opportunities. The fact is that apart from accessing markets far beyond the local one, a medium scale venture can count on differentiated management areas, among others, administration, sales, product development, training, finances, external relations. It would no longer be an isolated person or family, compelled to do a little bit of everything, limited in reach and effectiveness, facing the challenges of the touristic activity. Nor would it be an association of small producers that in many cases is created to merge wills and represent interests, but that has not been designed and structured to effectively manage an economic initiative that has to make room for itself among many other actors of a globalized world.

An effective management, far from disturbing community spirit, reinforces and projects it towards new horizons. If the aims are clearly expressed so they can be a guide and reference for action, collective supervision of management ensures the course and guards the touristic venture’s way of functioning, including equitable profit distribution. An effective management adds sustainability to the community’s development.

Adapting management to community reality

There is not one but several and diverse modalities of managing a community tourism venture. It would not be convenient to reduce such diversity to a single formula stated as the most valid, correct or appropriate. It is worth acknowledging this because in the upcoming lines we will work on one of the several existing management forms: people’s franchise. There are of course other management modalities that can be used. However, we choose the people’s franchise modality as reference for a double reason. On one hand, because it successfully combines the family management of small inns with the establishment of a medium scale venture. On the other, it allows to fairly and effectively face critical issues for the community such as, among others, the touristic venture’s ownership structure, the levels and instances in which the community as a whole participates, equitable profit distribution and the eventual use of the franchise as a node of economic surpluses accumulation and, in that sense, an investment arm of the community.

The commercial franchise (we will shortly return to people’s franchise) is a business engineering that enables integrating small scattered entrepreneurs in a medium or large company that is capable of accessing a superior threshold of economic opportunities. In a commercial franchise two clearly differentiated actors regarding leadership, decision-making, corporate management and profits participate: the franchisor and the franchisees. The franchisor is the one who organizes the franchise around a chosen activity, draws up a program, manages the operation and funds the initial phase. In the context of legal norms regulating franchises’ way of functioning, the franchisor establishes rules and procedures, particularly the rights and obligations of the parties involved; meaning himself and the small entrepreneurs invited to integrate the franchise after having signed a contract accepting established conditions.

No one is forced to join a franchise so it has to be structured in such a way that it comes out appealing to all parties. However, being the franchisor’s decision-making power so much greater, it comes as no surprise that profit distribution will always favor him greatly. The reason in play is that the franchisor organizes the company, conducts it and undertakes greater risks. The first two motives are valid but the third is shared: while the franchisor risks more capital, small entrepreneurs turned into franchisees also risk their small capital that, proportionately, for them equals the capital invested in the franchise by its owner. If the franchise collapses, as it may well happen in any commercial venture, all parties share the cost of that bankruptcy.

In any case, better than keep exposing several other characteristics of the commercial franchise (how they sell, produce, advertise, train, fund, decide, control, among others) which remain for another time, we now move to analyze how a rural community family inn franchise could be structured.

Rural community family inn franchise

Let us begin by saying that it is not about extrapolating a capitalist instrument that affects or interferes with the nature of a community but about innovating; taking what is worth taking from the commercial franchise system and changing what does not adapt to a community’s requirement, so as to make way for another type of franchise, which we label in a generic sense as people’s franchise and, more specifically in this case, as a community franchise. A first, and perhaps the most important difference is that it is constituted by three and not only two parties: (i) the franchisor who acts as operational manager, (ii) the franchisees who are community families managing each rural inn (they might also be owners of that specific inn) and (iii) the community as an organization that, along with other actors that may be invited to participate, is the owner (or co-owner) of the franchise.

(i) The franchisor

The franchisor is selected by the community and must have management experience and knowledge of the touristic sector. If a community member meets those qualifications he/she would be the one selected but, if there were not, the community would choose someone who knows how to add value to their initiative. In this case two additional requisites would be demanded. The first one is that he/she knew how to work in a multicultural environment and the second that he/she commits to train those within the community who could further on lead the franchise.

(ii) The franchisee families

The families selected to manage the small inns will have (i) the right to receive from the franchise access to funding and advice to build, improve or equip their establishment, get visitors through a single reservation system, receive training and technical assistance, among other facilities, and (ii) contractual obligations to abide, such as respecting rules and standards the franchise sets regarding physical infrastructure, equipment, purchase of inputs, customer attention, use of the single reservation system, among others.

(iii) The franchise ownership

The community franchise is in principle owned by the community itself but, if it were decided so, other actors could be convened to participate as the touristic venture’s co-owners. This decision is the community’s prerogative and it would be put to action if the community considers other investors could reinforce the franchise’s economic base or access to markets and financing.

Multiplying effects

A family inn franchise presents two levels of inclusion: (i) a first level constituted by the families that manage the inns and might also own them, adding a non agricultural rural income source (increasing incomes and diversifying the risk) and (ii) a whole series of small ventures that provide services to inn visitors, such as, fresh orchard products, guided walks, artistic and cultural activities, crafts, horseback riding, etc. These entrepreneurs that are not part of the inn franchise would get incomes and a stable demand for their services that they would otherwise not manage to access.

The community franchise as an eventual accumulation and investment node

If successful, the community franchise can become an accumulation and investment node; its surpluses could be allocated in other productive initiatives of the community, whether it is in the same or a different value chain, helping to set up projects that cannot materialize today due to lack of initiative and seed capital.

The cultural challenge

When communities decide to face economic activities that are bigger or more complex than those they have been conducting, they have to adopt new ways of working and connecting with the outside world. This contact between different cultures, in the context of a historical background of confrontations and inequities, along with the existence of a diversity of interests, needs and even emotions, presents challenges and tensions that have to be properly faced.

The perspective of small rural production in which executive functions are taken up by a person or family with extreme scarcity of all sorts of resources is not the same as that of a larger economic organization where the specialized function division is mandatory. The community as a whole, its individual members, other small entrepreneurs of the same region, strategic partners that could be convened (as is the case of a franchisor/manager) and local governments, carry different values, attitudes and reactions towards success, joint efforts and adversity. It is a hard thing, filled with tensions, trying to make people and organizations converge around a common aim, as is in this case establishing and successfully managing a rural community family inn franchise. But it will have to be done; working skillfully and transparently to generate understandings and overcome disagreements between those seeking to join efforts. It is worth reflecting upon whether a venture is not, ultimately, a set of capacities and wills determined to transform into a valuable asset their diversity of cultures and interests.

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