Open Data and Community Tourism: A Strategy for Empowering Local Communities

Maurice McNaughton
As the global tourism landscape evolves, there is an emerging market for an alternative tourism product that is heritage-, cultural- or nature-based and thrives on visitor-community interaction, exploration and exchange. Community-based tourism offers a response to this market shift, and seeks to empower local communities as sustainable businesses, by developing, marketing and exposing their natural culture, talents, passion and potential to the world. It is a key component of Jamaica’s Tourism master plan and efforts to diversify the Tourism product.

Community-based tourism is likely to face the perennial disadvantage that small operators in the local tourism sector have always faced, of not having access to the traditional mainstream channels of destination & product advertising. However the Internet and social media are rapidly becoming dominant channels for access to tourism destination information. Combining the Internet and new low-cost, interactive, map-based technologies with official Open Government data and indigenous content creates the opportunity for the active engagement of community members in the planning, development and increased visibility of the community tourism product, as well as enhances the interactions between the community, the tourism agencies, and other service providers within the sector; i.e. transportation, larger hotel chains, tour operators, and prospective tourists.

This provides a powerful application of the emerging methodology of Interactive community mapping (ICM), a process that engages individuals in creating maps of their community. The ICM process aims to help community members, governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and development partners to harness the collective wisdom and knowledge of these communities and to become drivers of development.

This paper reports on the findings of a research study conducted in 2013 as part of the ECLAC/W3C Brazil Open Data for Development project in Latin America & the Caribbean (LAC). A primary goal of the study was to evaluate the opportunities and potential impact for Open Data policy and initiatives to address some of the challenges within the sector, in particular those faced by small properties. One of the key findings was that Community Based Tourism presents an interesting and unique setting for a bottom-up, demand-driven Open Data Initiative, that engages the local actors in the community as major contributors to the production and publishing of open data and open content. The paper also reports on the progress of Pilot projects being conducted in select communities to explore this new dimension in tourism product development and visibility and evaluates the potential economic impact (lift) that such initiatives could provide for economic activity and linkages within the target communities.

Key words: Interactive community mapping; Open Data; Community-based Tourism; Sustainability