Community-enhancing tourism is an untapped opportunity

Promote local businesses, heritage sites, off-the-beaten path locations and volunteering to become part of community-enhancing tourism

Travellers today are keen to immerse themselves in the local culture and unique character of the destinations they visit. Embracing community-enhancing tourism creates these enriching experiences for guests and also attracts positive feelings from neighbours and local communities.

This becomes a proactive approach towards dealing with the negativity being shown towards vacation rentals, particularly in areas where local people are being most affected. In some cities which are suffering from overtourism, such as Barcelona, regulation is already in place to limit the number of short-term rentals.

In this article we will introduce some of the ways your vacation rental business can become part of community-enhancing tourism.



1. How to become a community-enhancing tourism business

One of the many reasons that travellers choose to stay in a vacation rental is that they can experience what it is like to live like a local. They can buy and cook their own food, try out restaurants and interact with local people.

When you promote all the unique attractions of your destination as well as the local scene, it adds another dimension and reason for guests to book with you. In this way, you are offering a complete experience rather than just a place to sleep.

Another very valid reason is that you can create the sort of vacation rental that a local community would want to have. It makes sense to demonstrate that your property and its guests are respectful of the neighbours and are bringing business to local companies. Consequently, you are more likely to be allowed to operate when local municipalities are talking of introducing regulation.

Social responsibility should be an important part of your sustainability strategy and Sustonica encourages this approach with its criteria, ‘Promote Destination & Minimise Negative Impact on the Community.’


2. Be respectful to the locals

One of the most common complaints about vacation rentals usually comes from the locals. They often perceive travellers staying in short-term rentals as noisy, wasteful and disrespectful towards the local community. These neighbours live there all-year-round and it is important that their home city, town or village feels like a place they can enjoy a good quality of life.

Think about the locals living in your rental apartment block or in the surrounding houses. There are plenty of actions you can take to show them that you are actively doing all you can to bring community-enhancing tourism to their area. The local community will be much more welcoming if you demonstrate that you are bringing money to their neighbourhood through your own purchases and encouraging your guests to do the same.



3. Partner with local businesses

Local businesses are key to creating the identity of a destination and they form the unique character that travellers are seeking. One of the joys of travel is having the opportunity to discover local food and restaurants.  and artists. This is how the traveller can experience meaningful interactions with local people and get a real sense of place. Have you thought of filling your vacation rental with local art and supporting local artists?

Most travellers choose to stay in a vacation rental rather than a hotel or guesthouse as it becomes a ‘home from home’ with all the privacy and freedom that affords. Additionally, having a kitchen is a key motivation where your guests can cook with fresh ingredients bought at local shops. Help your guests to source the best local produce so that they can experience for themselves the culinary highlights of your area.


DID YOU KNOW? – Having a list of locally sourced food stores can get you up to 3.13% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria?

Local independent businesses can benefit greatly from vacation rental guests it they are encouraged to spend with them as part of community-enhancing tourism.


4. Showcase local culture and heritage

Much of local culture is centred around food! We have already mentioned the importance of promoting local produce and guests will also want you to give them recommendations for the best restaurants. When you do this, remember the rising wellness trend combined with healthy eating. So, make sure you include vegetarian, vegan and organic options for food shops as well as restaurants.

Undoubtedly, people travel to visit cultural and heritage sites which could be religious, historical or contemporary. Share practical information about how to book, and good times to visit. Why not work with local tour guides to provide a bespoke experience for your guests?


DID YOU KNOW? – Having a list of local heritage sites can get you up to 3.13% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? Showcasing local cultural and heritage sites will enrich the guest experience whilst generating funds to maintain and preserve the unique character of your destination.


5. Off-the-beaten path

A continuing trend in tourism is that travellers are always keen to find undiscovered places. Places that are not on the usual tourist trail. This could be a small museum or gallery which houses some unique or niche works. Alternatively, if you are in a city location, there may be some nearby characteristic villages or towns which are worth visiting. This approach plays a role in community-enhancing tourism particularly if your city suffers from overtourism. In so many countries, there is a wealth of places to visit outside the main destination to help much-needed dispersal of tourists.

For rural locations, guests will appreciate the chance to explore unknown trails and hiking routes with the opportunity to get close to nature. Furthermore, you could work with a local guide who can explain the legends which might be associated with certain features of a landscape.


DID YOU KNOW? – Having a list of local off-the-beaten path sites can get you up to 3.13% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? One of the modern travel trends is to seek places that are away from the usual tourist trail. This helps with the dispersal of guests across a wider area of a destination, spreading traveller spend accordingly.



6. Take part in volunteering opportunities

Wherever a traveller visits, there are likely to be social or environmental problems. Vacation rental owners and their guests can become involved in these projects as a way of giving back. If you choose to offset the carbon footprint of your flight for example, you do not really know the impact of your contribution. However, if you volunteer as a property owner/manager or encourage your guests to do so, you will be able to experience your impact first-hand. Consequently, you will gain a real feeling of giving back in a personal and meaningful way.

There will certainly be volunteering opportunities in your destination. You can find out if there are ways your property management staff can volunteer and give them a day off on top of paid leave. This is increasingly becoming part of employment contracts and is a great way of showing that you are a caring employer. In addition, you may also find that there are ways for your guests to volunteer during their stay in your property.

Our Founder and CEO, Vanessa de Souza Lage, recently flew to the U.S. to take part in the annual VRMA conference. Instead of offsetting the carbon from her trip, she decided to volunteer at a charity for the homeless in New York.


Volunteering was a deeply moving and rewarding experience. When I was able to serve this lady with a nutritious hot meal, I really felt that I was giving back and part of such meaningful work. Volunteering benefits the receiver but also the giver. This is why it is one of the Sustonica Criteria.


7. Use a digital guidebook to inspire and involve guests

Once you have taken steps to incorporate community-based tourism initiatives, it is important that you communicate these to your guests. They need to know that you are a caring business and are doing as much as you can to benefit the local community where you are based.

A great way to do this is by using a digital guide book like those offered by Touch Stay. You will be able to list all the local businesses and  experiences you recommend as well as explaining your unique sustainability practices in their ‘Making a Difference’ section. In this way, your guests will enjoy a truly meaningful and unforgettable stay, whilst bringing a positive impact to the destination.

Hopefully, this article has demonstrated how impactful community-based tourism can be. Check out the criteria, ‘Promote Destination & Minimise Negative Impact on the Community’ and then take the Sustonica Test to see if you qualify for our badge!



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