Participation and governance challenges along the Nabji community-based ecotourism trail in Bhutan
Author Ugyen Namgyel, Jill M. Belsky, and Stephen F. Siebert
The Nabji Trail was created in 2006 in Bhutan’s Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park as the country’s first community-based ecotourism project. The goals of the Nabji Trail were to extend tourism to remote communities in need of socioeconomic opportunities while also building local capacity to manage ecotourism activities and stewarding environmental resources. This study examined participation and governance during the first five years of its operation (2006–2010). Participation in the Nabji Trail ecotourism activities was found to differ between villages comprised of the two key ethnic groups, Monpa and Khengpa. The Monpa villages are located deep within the forest and had relatively few income generating opportunities, low food security and were more willing to engage in Nabji Trail tourism activities than residents from the Khengpa communities. The Khengpa are located closer to the main road and have alternative income generating activities and higher food security. Developing fair and consistent pricing for tourism activities, maintaining stable leadership in “community tourism management committees” and following transparent and democratic processes to allocate “community development funds” were challenges found in all Monpa and Khengpa villages; as a result, ecotourism providers were questioning and even resisting paying 10% of their tourist earnings to community development fund accounts. This paper discusses the factors within and across villages, as well as with national tourist operators, which complicate widespread participation and stable governance, and recommends greater attention be paid to monitoring and backstopping from supra-community collaborators involved in the project.