A Case Study of Ghandruk Community Tourism, Nepal


Khem Kumar Gautam

Department of Business Administration, Osaka Sangyo University, Japan



Local participation in community tourism is key to the host community welfare as well as socio-cultural and environmental well-being. However, the measurement of a tangible level of such participation and the consequential empowerment process of the host is often overlooked and remains hitherto, an under-researched concept. To inquire on this as an objective, a case study is applied in a Ghandruk community (Nepal) with an assessment of community-tourism interaction, participation level and empowerment build up process of the community.  While on the construction of the theory, theoretical perspectives on destination development, community-tourism interactions and participation typologies were incorporated. Structured questionnaires for a sample population and other qualitative survey techniques revealed that the local enthusiasm in tourism was growing for economic reasons, gaining some empowerment. A growth tendency of zones such as core and peripherals, in terms of tourism trade intensity and local involvement, was detected. The core area participants were better equipped and more benefitted than those in the peripherals. It is concluded that in communities such as Ghandruk where tourism is slowly taking off, such traits of core and peripherals, are evident. But in due course of destination development and maturity, as the local participation level rises sufficiently to broaden the peripheral zone, merging with the core areas may occur.

Keywords: local participation level, empowerment, core and peripheral zones, tourism destination development.



The modern days tourism in communities have necessitated community stewardship in it. Also because, tourists desire to travel the far-off places is increasing because of their imagination of seeing the unseen and for the most idiosyncratic tourists, the attraction for the remote and off the beaten tracks places was never more than what it is at present (Fennel, 2015). Yet, the Community upturn of tourism has been identified with both benefits and tangible costs as expressed in tourism literature, especially on four core dimensions such as socio-cultural, economic, biophysical environment and local empowerment (Nunkoo  & Ramkisson, 2011; Wearing  & McDonald, 2002; Stronza & Gordillo, 2008; Stone & Stone, 2011; Tylor, 1995). Moreover, what almost unanimously supported is the fact that developing tourism activities in communities may not realize its socio-economic, community empowerment and environmental sustainability goals unless the host community members are on the decisive position to influence on policy decisions (Mitchell & Reid, 2001; Murphy, 1985; Kontogeorgopoulos, 2005; Scheyvens,  2000; Cole, 2007; Simons & Grool, 2015). Because, tourism cannot sustain in a community if the host are hostile and unsupportive of its activities ( Reid, D. G., Mair, H. & George, W. ,2004; Claudia 1997; Lankford & Howard 1994; Lankford 1994; Ap, 1992; Faulkener  & Tideswell, 1997; Tosun & Timothy,  2003; Ap  & Crompton, 1998; Liu, J. C., Sheldon, P. J., and Var, T. ,1987; Choi & Shirakaya,  2005).

While the emphasis on stakeholders’ decisive participation in tourism is increasing, scaling of an actual level of community stakeholders’ participation in its planning and implementation is often an overlooked issue (Blackstock, 2005; Sharpley, 2014; Wearing & McDonald, 2002). The purpose of this research is therefore, to identify the level of local participation in a community-based tourism and to assess the empowerment process thereafter. For the first purpose, the involvement of local community members in tourism trade has been accounted of a sample frame of the community and assessed the developing tourism trade of the whole community to identify the level of local participation in tourism. And for the second purpose, some theoretical frameworks of empowerment such as described by Scheyvens (2000), has been applied to assess the empowerment of the community. 


Local participation is defined as “the ability of local communities to influence the outcome of development projects, such as community tourism, that have an impact on them”, (Drake, 1991: 149-155, in Fennell, 2015: 74). While empowerment is, essentially, a process at which individuals or community act to gain mastery or control over their lives (Rappaport, 1987; Zimmerman et. al., 1992; Perkins & Zimmerman, 1995; Wallerstein & Bernstein, 1994; Speer & Hughey, 1995). Participation in any community projects especially for marginals and powerless subgroups is not as easy and hurdle-less that, the social hierarchies and complexities make some get better advantages while other are deprived of its the basic. Similarly, even though the community-wide participation is extensively advocated in the literature, the divergence of nested and vested interests in the social hierarchies and cultural to structural barriers featured more prominently in developing countries, make the participation process more difficult (Tosun, 2000 &2006; Jamal & Stronza, 2009; Stone & Stone, 2011).  Moreover, the interests of the lower-class people in the hierarchy might be superseded by that of the elite’s interests and priorities when it comes to projects benefits although the costs are shared among all equally as tourism brings with it as much costs/impacts as it brings benefits to the local (Blackstock, 2005; Reed, 1997; Reid et.al., 2004; Choi & Shirakaya, 2005; Lankford, 1994; Lankford & Howard, 1994; Liu et. al., 1987; Ap & Crompton, 1998). While the empirical investigations suggest that considering the local residents’ active support is rewarding not only for more sustainable and viable long-term tourism planning, but also at minimizing the harmful negative impacts (Oviedo-Garcia, Castellanos-Verdugo, & Martin-Ruiz, 2008).

However, the process and understanding in empowerment is complex. According to Wallerstein and Bernstein (1994), empowerment embodies an interactive process of change, where institutions and communities become transformed, as people who participate in changing them become transformed.  Timothy (2007) explained four distinctive and instructive degrees of empowerment such as imposed development, tokenistic involvement, meaningful participation to empowerment whereas, Rocha (1997) explained the variation in empowerment through atomistic to embedded, mediated and socio-political empowerment and its meaning differently attached in different contexts and manifestation. Here, the four spheres of empowerment (Scheyvens, 2000; Timothy, 2007) such as economic, psychological, social and political empowerment are explored to dig into the community empowering process.


A case study approach was applied to explore on the community participation level and inbuilding empowerment process in Ghandruk village, Nepal. An exploratory research method was applied to acquire qualitative and some quantitative data with survey instruments such as: household surveys, key informants’ interview, focus group discussions were descriptively used to get more insight about the current state of tourism in the community, local people participation processes and the level of participation as well as community and individual empowerment.

The study population consisted of a rural community of Ghandruk village which lies en-route to the famous Annapurna Circuit of mid-western Nepal. For the research purpose, an extensive field visit was done by the researcher during the second week of March to second week of April 2018, which was a tourist season. The community is well known to hosting trekkers in their village since the adventure trekking tourism began in Nepal and the community involvement in tourism is increasing by the day in commensurate with the tourism growth in the region. The community lies in the jurisdiction of interest for this study also because they most suitably resembled what community tourism literature described about a community.

3.1 Study Site: Ghandruk Village

Ghandruk village lies in a strategic tourist district of world-famous Annapurna Circuit and conservation area in the western part of Nepal. The northern side of the village boasts of famous mountain range of Annapurna, Machhapuchhre, Himchuli, Gangapurna mountains. This village has its reputation and history of hosting the trekkers in when they ended up here off their long journey towards Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) or now Annapurna Circuit tour. Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), working in the area under National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), a government entrusted entity that oversees all National Parks, sanctuaries and reserves in the country, primarily for conservation purpose, is facilitating and promoting tourism in this village and region. In addition to such touristic features in this village, the attraction to this mountain landscape is growing day by day prominently because of the mountain serenity that prevails, pristine nature and above all, it’s close proximity to the over 8000m tall world-famous mountain ranges such as The Annapurnas, for which a growing number of visitors from home and abroad, take to the adventure trek. At the end of 2017, 63500 international arrivals were recorded in the area according to the data claimed by ACAP official working in the village.

 Figure 1: The Ghandruk village map


4.     RESULTS


4.1 Participation Level in Tourism


The community members in the sample population were in large involving in tourism, they even decided on policies as a community body. There were not external interferences, however some local elitist interests were a norm. Such local leaders were supported in full or part by the community as long as community-wide planning was concerned. This somehow, consolidated trust on their community leaders. This surveyed sample population was taken from a small cluster of the village developed into tourism hub. A large chunk of village population was widely scattered and remotely placed to involve themselves in hosting tourists in their homes. Traditionally developed areas that were along the routes were dearer to far-flung communities and that eventually making participation difficult for those living away from such centers. However, people from such backward community were aware of the fact that even if they had no such direct stake in tourism projects, the tourism in their village was beneficial to them in terms of the growing demands of their livestock and agricultural produces. That was a subsidiary role for them of supplying seasonal labor and their agricultural products to the host entrepreneurs.

Along with the increasing arrival of visitors in the community, the community members were, more or less, hopeful of increasing level of participation or widening of the inclusive net of participation in the village and thereby accruing tourism benefits to the whole community. This was obvious from the fact that houses were being renovated or being built up even if they were not in the immediate premises of the tourism core areas and changed into homestays for hosting guests as their attitude was favorable towards tourists than that was in the initial days. Similarly, land buy and sell activities within community members only was preferred to the business area that condensed as a result of intra-migration. The other ways of seeking community-wide participation was to make the community self-sufficient in basic food supply as possible as it could, that called for especially, local farm/agricultural production to meet the growing food demand and creating income for those not directly involved in hospitality.

            However, the personal contacts of the hotel owners with the tourists themselves and trekking agents, was not in line with the zero-favoritism policy by the committee towards any individual member tourism service provider. And such contacts and communication from the outside world was with the accommodation service providers having better accommodating facilities and better access to information such as internet, and about tour providers based at regional centers such as Pokhara or Kathmandu, or even international agency. Most of such facilities’ owners themselves were in the Ghandruk tourism committee, a tourism governing body. Symbolically, they were in the core of tourism service providers and those providing subsidiary and auxiliary services were in the tourism service providers peripheral zone. As such, there were two emerging spaces in tourism service providers, not only in terms of location but also the kind of services they provide. Those in the core service providers were directly engaged in tourism such as hosting tourists and having direct contact with them, more influential and vocal in their community, knowledgeable full timers and having increasing relations and network in the business process, than those from the peripheral and having partial or seasonal engagement and doing subsidiary role in the business; that is, by selling some of their agricultural and livestock products, doing some tourism related auxiliary construction jobs. The tourism space occupied by the service providers in the core was narrower but influential whereas that of peripheral was wider but less vocal and having dependent relations with those in the core.

4.2 Empowerment of The Community


i.               Economic empowerment

The economic empowerment, as described in the literature, is a significant and prominent factor to demonstrate the empowerment at individual and community level. Their economic gains from tourism was in commensurate with the visitor volume in the village and in most cases, more than one person from the family or whole family were employed in their business. This was an example of economic empowerment of the tourism entrepreneurs brought about by tourism in the community. However, the community members in the peripheral zone were in most cases, partially engaged in tourism and their economic gains from tourism were dependent on tourism entrepreneurs from the core zone; such as by selling off their food stuff to the tourism business holders from the core zone. Thus, economically more empowered were those from core tourism service zone than from peripheral. So, concludingly, people from the core service providers zone were empowered economically from tourism as their businesses was growing with the visitor growth whereas, those living in the far-off peripherals were untouched by tourism and their economic empowerment brought about by tourism was not counted as such.

ii.             Psychological empowerment

The second sphere looked upon was a psychological empowerment of community members whereby they took pride of their cultural values and traditions. The local response to the inquisitive foreigners and the social interactions showed the community taking pride in their culture. The housings in the old settlements were generations old with unique architecture and designs, made up of mostly stones and wood and stone roofed. The tourist gaze around the surroundings and the interaction reflected a general appreciation. Another example where the community thought that their culture was appreciated by tourists, was when they saw that the tourists were willing to pay to the local museum for photograph wearing their traditional attires (the Gurung dress).  This cultural demand also brought a feelings and awareness among the community members how important was their cultures to preserve for tourist attraction. When tourists were keen to observe the community rituals, religious ceremonies or any festivities, the community members would have a feeling that such activities were deeply admired and liked by the foreign visitors which made them think of their culture and traditions to be proud of. The overall community perception of tourists was that the tourists were appreciating their cultures and values, and this worked as an incentive to preserve it for future attraction.

iii.            Social empowerment

The community members working together in any projects for a common good of the entire community strengthens the social integrity and community cohesion. In Ghandruk community tourism, the community bond and social relationship is one of the historically inherited characteristics. In an ethnic and single tribe inhabited community like this one, the cultural identity and communal harmony is prominently evident. Such communal harmony was reflected on religious ceremonies, festivities, rituals that were also a center of attractions for tourists. The community tourism in Ghandruk has brought in social awareness on the importance of working together on community projects such as schools, community roads, health and sanitation. Such activities not only aid to the community cohesion but also social inclusion and a feeling of strengthened social relationships. Such a communal feeling was demonstrated also from the fact that the village land entitlement was limited to the locals only. Because of tourism, as a vital community project in this community, public meetings, occasional gatherings and sharing of information was important among all members, that adding to the social relationships and agreements on issues of future course of actions and tourism trajectories. It was also found from the quantitative survey conducted in the core tourism zone, that even though the community leaders were influential in policy making and other tourism related decision making, the public opinion seeking was emphasized and prioritized as a norm. This could lead to conclude that the community was empowered because of tourism from social perspective.


iv.            Political empowerment

Political empowerment is considered to have occurred when the community and its stakeholders can have a decisive role to play to the effects of development processes that affect their lives. In Ghandruk community tourism, the community stakeholders were free of any intervening and implementing agencies overpowering the community will on matters to tourism development; since the village had a historical tradition of visitors hosting, the tourism development was evolved through a self-evolutionary process with the gradual involvement of local leaders, rather than from outsiders’ encroachment and investment. Facilitatory organization such as Annapurna Conservation Area Project was promoting tourism along with conservation mission with local support and was assisting the community stakeholders, rather than imposing their agenda, on policy issues. Community members were free to raise their concerns, question on decisions and suggest for any further course of action in tourism policies and decisions in the community, on occasions when government agencies had some advice or planning agenda. Apart from tourism, in other development sectors such as infrastructure development, health, education, conservation and ecology also, the planning and implementing authorities emphasized on local aspirations and priorities rather than their set ideas. This community being a single ethnic, there were not racial minorities. The local politicians had their associations with political parties having different ideologies and the local government was in place, but when it comes to community issues such as tourism, united concern and effort to the effect of better address of such issues would be a priority. From this perspective, the community was politically empowered. However, the empowerment of the community members to the individual level was relative to the degree of their education level, knowledge and skills, and the business intensity area which they were from such as core or peripheral.



The findings from the research that, along with the tourism growth in a local tourism community where the locals have the total control over tourism, the local participation level increases, as well as the separate zones of tourism service areas such as peripheral service zones and core service zones emerge in terms of the intensity of tourism participants. This, however, has limits to which the participants can take to the business because of the factors such as the variation in visitors to the community, carrying capacity of the area etc.

In the previous chapter, it was observed that the local community in any rural setting like Ghandruk, where outsiders to community were discouraged to engage in tourism businesses and local population had predominant stake in tourism, their participation in it was also rising in commensurate with the number of increasing visitors, and consequently, with the level of tourism development. It was observed empirically that while such development escalated community members’ interest in tourism and participation in it for business opportunity, some constraints such as personal incapacities or lack of resources and skills inhibited large numbers of community members to fully reap the benefits of tourism at the initial stage. However, with the passage of time, some learned from other, gained some skills and capital to invest, working from the periphery service zone by providing goods and services to the core service business owners, and as such, some extra members could enter into core service providers zone. The important impetus for this is the increasing numbers of visitors. In such a way, those with enhanced skills and minimized constraints, were able to take the benefits from tourism by fully engaging themselves in tourism business. While in the process, those with less skills and still some constraints, got the auxiliary role of supporting the full-time business owners by indirectly or partially engaging in tourism.   This phenomenon was explained above by the creation of two distinct hypothetical zones named as core service providers zone and peripheral service providers zone.  And those with influential business ownership and fully engaged in tourism were in core service providers zone while those with partial or indirect engagement and partial roles were in peripheral service providers zone. These areas were defined in terms of the community members’ intensity of engagement in tourism or, whether they were fully or partially engaged in tourism. A notable point is that, with the increased tourism in the community, the level of participation increased in both such zones, simultaneously but not proportionately. For example, as the level of tourism increased, some newcomers from peripheral zone were attracted to core zone with some skill gain and improved financial status. This was possible because while working from peripheral zone they gain some business confidence and accumulate some funding amount that could led them to directly own a tourism business. Similarly, previously left out community members, though not able to own a tourism business, learn from the process, know how to get some benefits or get some partial works and this way, come into the peripheral service providers zone. Also, further with the continued growth, some members from the peripheral service zone were pushed into core zone as their role from partial engagement turned into full time engagement no matter what their business was. In this way, the peripheral service space itself advanced towards core service space as shown in the figure below.


Figure 2: An illustration of core and peripheral service zones.


In the above figure, at the initial stage of tourism development, the peripheral service providers curve is at P1 with the level of community participation at L1 and in this, a slight chunk of P1L1 curve, lies within core service providers curve. This is when the peripheral service providers curve advances through the imaginary threshold of core service providers’ curve at some point of time T1 and with sufficiently growing numbers of visitors in the area.  Destination publicity and marketing affects tourism growth remarkably, and with this, the rapid growth in visitor arrival, as explained above, increased in the numbers of participants from both peripheral service providers zone and core service providers zone. As a result, the P1L1 curves shifts from its initial position and advances to P2L2 at some point of time T2. At this time, the participation level of community members increases from L1 to L2 whereby, some more numbers of community members fall into core service providers zone, whereas previously ignorant to tourism, now fall into peripheral service providers zone.


5.1 Level of Participation, community empowerment and Limits to tourism growth

As explained above, the community is said to have empowered when they have full access to and control over tourism trade without any external interference in their business. In this way, along with the flattening of the core and peripheral service zones, as a result of increasing level of community participation in tourism trade with increasing visitors, the community is empowered accordingly. However, a limit to this growth will soon be reached and the rule of economics come into play. Here, the flattening of the P2L2 curve and thus the widening of the core service providers zone is restricted to some limiting factors such as exceeding carrying capacities, reduced destination attraction among visitors etc. With increasing tourism, a considerable section of the community is already under core business zone, and those who are not, come under peripheral service providers zone because of tourism environment and tourism trade in the village.  But, after a continuous tourism growth, a time period is reached, when an optimum level of visitors and consequently, a level of development is achieved, whereby the community participants in tourism will have marginal benefits from tourism equal to marginal cost for it. Further up this level, there will be diminishing returns to investment. This is explained in the figure below.

In the above figure, the flattened peripheral curve P2L2 and the core service zone it creates, have both their volume fixed under the line of constraint AB. The optimum level of participation is reached at participation level L2 whereby the marginal benefits from tourism is equal to marginal cost to it (MB=MC). In the figure, MB=MC, is when the peripheral curve is tangent at point O. The increased level of participation from L2 to L3 will have marginal benefits from tourism less than marginal cost to it (MB<MC) because the section OO1 goes beyond the constraint line AB i.e. exceeds carrying capacity or destination loses its attraction.

The local control of tourism and their free and independent participation in it, is an example of local empowerment when it is looked upon from this perspective. The symbolic participation intensity areas, such as core and peripherals are the distinct outcome, that develop only in such self-evolving and local controlled tourist areas corollary to Butler’s (1980) destination life cycle model.

  Figure 3: An illustration of optimum level of participation

In the above figure, the flattened peripheral curve P2L2 and the core service zone it creates, have both their volume fixed under the line of constraint AB. The optimum level of participation is reached at participation level L2 whereby the marginal benefits from tourism is equal to marginal cost to it (MB=MC). In the figure, MB=MC, is when the peripheral curve is tangent at point O. The increased level of participation from L2 to L3 will have marginal benefits from tourism less than marginal cost to it (MB<MC) because the section OO1 goes beyond the constraint line AB i.e. exceeds carrying capacity or destination loses its attraction.

The local control of tourism and their free and independent participation in it, is an example of local empowerment when it is looked upon from this perspective. The symbolic participation intensity areas, such as core and peripherals are the distinct outcome, that develop only in such self-evolving and local controlled tourist areas corollary to Butler’s (1980) destination life cycle model.



The community participation in tourism literature equivocally focus on the engagement in tourism by its community members for economic rewards. However, this enquiry emphasizes on actual ‘level of participation’ rather than just participation. In doing so, it could neatly identify those fully dependent on tourism, those less or partial dependent and those not yet in the process and thus left behind. The exclusive findings from the research is that, there existed a fine boundary of core and peripheral zones, defined in terms of tourism dependency of the residents living in the community and intensity of their participation in the tourism trade irrespective of their physical location. The insight obtained from the research is that; those living in the core zone were the principal beneficiaries from tourism, fully dependent, and more vocal and decisive in the tourism decision making matters. They were the leading tourism traders such as accommodation and restaurant owners. While those in the peripheral zone were partially dependent in the tourism, selling some local food supplies as per the main traders’ requirements and availing seasonal services.  If any outsiders are welcomed to settle in the community and to trade in, the level of community participation in tourism and the characteristics of the curves would deflect, requiring further investigation. This was however, out of scope for this researcher in the present study. Thus, it is highly recommended to investigate such a case for further understanding of the scenario.

Implications of the findings

This study results have some theoretical as well as business implications. Widely cited theories such as Butler’s Destination Life cycle (1980), Doxey’s (1975) Irridex model and Ap’s (1992) Social Exchange theory are built up on the community-tourism interactions however, the community’s level of participation in tourism, was largely ignored while developing such theories. In this regard, the rising level of community participation in tourism in Ghandruk, that led to create the groundwork for two distinctive zones namely, peripheral and core, implicates the theories mentioned above, to a large extent. For example, the life span of different stages and the point of saturation in Destination Life Cycle model could be prolonged when the community members are in control of tourism in their community. Similarly, the community involvement in tourism to the level of their higher benefits certainly inculcates a welcoming attitude among the hosts to attract more guests. And some costs are overlooked for a future anticipated benefit, a key component of social exchange theory. These were the phenomena identified in the study site, Ghandruk, leading to implicate the aforementioned theories to a large extent. So, the higher level of local participation in a growing tourism destination that creates two distinct zones, peripheral and core, elevates its saturation point of development and social antagonism. The other social dimension, community empowerment with all its dimensions and manifestations as explained above, has its deeper meaning and realization when the community members themselves have control over tourism as depicted in this study site.

From the business perspective, this study helps motivate locals into business rather than outside dependency in terms of job or food supplies and make it a sustainable way of living. By identifying the current level of participation, their position in the tourism business, the community members could assess the tourism future trend and put in or venture out for investment. The rising participation level in tourism help community members prepare for competition and opt for better service towards their visitors. However, some under researched areas such as, what motivates those living in the peripherals to be hopeful of tourism trajectories, who still lag behind are left unaddressed in this study because of resource constraint. It could be suggested that the future researches would help address such issues.

Limitations of the study

This research like any other, has some methodological limitations. The application of qualitative survey technique was not flawless and potential biasness was presumed. At some important meetings some community members were absent while a few members were dominant. Also, the emerging but still an involvement stage (Butler, 1980), of tourism development in this study site, limits the economic benefits to the community members and thus motivation for participation in the tourism projects. This might deflect the development process of distinct zones of peripheral and core. Further research replication, in a mature tourism destination with similar settings, would consolidate the theory validation.





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