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Ethno-tourism is a form of tourism that is centered on a native group of individuals and their culture. Ethnotourists seek the cultural practices and experiences of local communities. Ethnotourism is intended to maximize economic and social benefits to the native communities and lessening negative effects to the environment and cultural heritage.  Ethno-tourism is a specialized form of cultural tourism and is defined by every expedition that focuses on works of humans other than the nature and tries to offer the tourists and understanding of the lifestyle of local people.

Concept of ethno-tourism

Ethno-tourism signifies the interest of tourists in customs of exotic and indigenous people. It entails intimate contacts of tourists with authentic native culture. Tourists visit houses of indigenous people, participates in and observes their dances, rituals, festivals and other types of cultural expression.  In order for ethno-tourism to be beneficial to all people the government and local communities establish policies and programs to ensure that it minimizes adverse impacts on the local communities.

These policies must assert that ethno-tourism must identify the sovereignty for indigenous territories and lands, and also recognize local organizations as the only interlocutors. It must also operate in a framework that where local communities can offer their skills and experiences to tourists and reap the full gains of value chain of tourism business.  Ethno-tourism requires local communities to track impact assessment and monitor the cultural and environmental impacts of tourism. In addition the utilization of biological, genetic, or natural resources from local territories must be subject to a signed pact denoting the approval of indigenous groups.

The government is supposed to offer support as requested by the local communities for information exchange, capacity building and planning and also assist in building native capacity to take up the role of major decision regarding cultural practices and knowledge, and biodiversity in native territory.  Ethnotourism  is supposed to be a sustainable source of income for numerous of marginalized and native communities  in developing nations who are struggling hard to get a source of income  and also loosing their languages and traditions which have be devoured by inevitable globalization.

Ethnotourism must focus on protecting the environment and also benefitting indigenous communities. In ethnotourism native communities are active participants, promoting their individual culture and major recipients of economic benefits that tourism generates other than being solely observed by tourists as exotic people.  

Benefits of ethno-tourism business to local communities

Ethno-tourism makes a significant contribution in terms of employment and income generation. It also promotes cultural identity of local communities. Most countries have experienced vast urbanization which is accompanied by immense western influences and these have made cultural   values and identities to be eroded. Ethnotourism promote revival of cultural identities and values by encouraging people to endorse traditional cultural skills and knowledge which they then transfer to the ethno tourists.

It also promotes creative industries such as traditional songs and dances which are products of ethno-tourism and thus offers a significant platform for local dancers and musicians to exercise their cultural practices and skills. Ethno-tourism business is closely connected with visual arts and crafts and ethno-tourism ventures provide locally made crafts for sale and this act as a value added attraction to the travelers and an further income generator for ethno-tourism players.

Ethno-tourism acts as a link amid cultural divides since it entails the exhibit   of a local native lifestyle and culture to visitors who come from a diverse lifestyle and culture.  This is accomplished via personal interrelationships and, thus enhances cross cultural education and communication. This results to building of greater tolerance and understanding of diverse cultures.  For instance, in South Africa, ethno tourism enhances exhibit of diverse cultures where people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds have come together and recreated villages from their own geographical regions. These multicultural facilities promote tolerance and understanding between diverse from the South African subregion.  

Ethno tourism focuses upon indigenous lifestyles and traditions and also depends upon inherited skills and knowledge of the native communities. This business, thus, offers a distinct opportunity for local communities to penetrate into mainstream tourism business and acquire additional skills. Ethno-tourism enhances distribution of income in the local communities. The revenue gained via ethno-tourism business is usually channeled into activities of community development such as health, education and water provision.   

For instance, El Descanso, which situated in Rio Grande De Terraba river basin, is operated by Asodint native organization and it has traditionally designed cabins set in serene atmosphere and traditional foods and drinks are offered.  Tourists are allowed to visit the Terraba and Catarata rivers, ancient petroglyphs and numerous local communities, and learn about medicinal plants used by these communities, play traditional native games and purchase local handicrafts.  The profits obtained form tourism is then reinvested into community development projects.   When community revenues are properly managed, it may be highly valuable and provide for the needs of the community that wouldn't otherwise be accomplished in the absence of this income.

Institutional capacity building is highly promoted by ethno-tourism business.  Where local communities are engaged, ethno-tourism may be a significant focal point on which community unity may be facilitated and local community organizations may be strengthened. Ethno-tourism also enhances local communities have an easy access to information. Inadequate access to information is a feature of poverty particularly for communities situated in remote rural regions.

Well managed tourism benefits these local communities by enhancing access information through external contact and increased communication between local communities and tourists. Ethno-tourism business generates employment at the vicinity of local communities and this decreases domestic interruption and lessens urban migration in search for employment.

Benefits of ethno-tourism business to tour companies

Tour companies act as intermediaries amid tourism service providers who are local communities and the tourists. These companies bring together a wide range of tourism connected services to cerate a complete holiday package which they then market to the tourists either directly or via travel agents. Every package usually comprise of accommodation and food provisions where tourists are served with local foods and drinks, transport from and to the destination, ground transportation in the destination and activities or events such as social activities and excursions. 

The services offered by tour companies to enable them to   gain income and also interact with foreign people along with understanding their cultural knowledge and skills.  In order to ensure sustainability of every input that goes into their product, tour operators who provide products which consist of services and goods implement sustainability policies which need them to closely work together with suppliers so as to increase sustainability performance in the holiday package.

A well managed ethno-tourism increases operating efficiencies for tour companies enabling them to get high profit margins in this business. Good performance of tour companies and high quality of the goods and services they offer to tourists enable tour operators to minimize the risk of problems or conflicts with local communities and government, and this increases their status as respected destination partners enabling them to attract more tourists and  generate more income.

Ethno-tourism brings tourists into direct contact with local cultures and different people around the destination. Usually entailing long treks into remote, undeveloped regions, ethno tourism involves a particular amount of hazard, but reputable tour companies take this into considerations to reduce the risk factors like exposure to illnesses, political and social turmoil, physical demands and food safety issues. The tour companies also consider the potential for adverse impacts on indigenous communities, like the probability of exposing them to diseases from the foreign tourists to which they may have no immunity.

Benefits of ethnotourism to visitors

Ethno-tourism enables tourists to explore the behaviours and the culture of local communities in foreign countries and understand the cultural practices, experiences, knowledge and skills of local communities.  These tours take visitors to different regions within the native territory and enable them to live with, talk with and experience the rich culture of these communities.  Tourists engage in cultural tours of native communities where they explore ancient cultural landscapes along with mythological land formations and also experience cultural festivals.  In addition they are able to observe and take part in local festivities and rituals, view and take photos of local people in their ethnic dressing and listen to and record ethnic music.

Ethno-tourism business enables tourists to have a sense of belonging while in foreign land when they directly interact with local people. Local communities do not merely serve tourists but tourists require   local people to present them themselves in ethnic costumes and dresses, to perform their traditional dances and engage in their ceremonies and also organize their festivals for tourists to observe and participate in. This enables tourists to identify with the local people and enjoy their adventure since they feel as if they are a part of these communities.


Ethno tourism business is important because it provides employment and generates income to local people and tour companies. It also enables local communities to preserve their culture and cultural heritage. It creates an atmosphere in which people are able to express their cultural values and oral traditions through dances, and music regardless of the rapid urbanization. Ethnotourism is also beneficial to tourists because it enables them to understand and take in cultural practices and experiences of local communities such as dances, music ceremonies and rituals.

However, Ethno-tourism can be harmful to local culture by influencing the dressing and behavior of local communities. Therefore, in order to avoid this scenario, the government and local communities are supposed to develop policies and programs which minimize negative impacts of ethno-tourism on indigenous communities and maximize social and economic benefits.

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