Years ago I was a tourism management student looking for volunteer opportunities for the summer break. After some thorough research I found a place where I could volunteer in exchange for lodging and it was directly related to my studies, too. A few months later I found myself at the gate of a 200 year old Arab mansion that had been turned guesthouse less than two years before.
This gorgeous mansion with its hand painted ceilings was located in a very well known town, which saw some day visitors but no tourist would think of spending the night. Perhaps of you have heard of it, the town of Nazareth? Yes, that Nazareth.
The idea behind the guesthouse was to simply offer accommodation in the old town of Nazareth, as there really was nowhere for visitors to stay overnight. The old town area was not the most desirable of neighborhoods and although once a busy shopping area it had now shrunk down to a few shops and one or two restaurants. The day tourists wouldn’t really spend any money during their short visits so the local community never saw the benefits of tourism.
One brave entrepreneur with a vision made his dream come true when he opened the Fauzi Azar Inn in the middle of the maze-like old town. It was here that I learnt that responsible tourism and community development are not just words in the literature I studied for my degree. They can be a very powerful combination and they were working their magic right there before my eyes in this underrated town.
The inn was run by local staff, many who lived literally next door, as well as a few international volunteers like myself. It was quickly becoming popular among backpackers and foreign tourists, which resulted to the shops starting to see more business and the restaurants filling up instead of being half empty. The markets, bazars and coffee shops now saw new customers too.
But it wasn’t just about the economic benefit. The image of the old town was changing in the eyes of visitors and the locals; it was no longer the shady part of town, it was something to be proud of. Inspired by the success of the inn more guesthouses were opened, most with the help and knowhow of the people behind Fauzi Azar Inn, resulting even more direct jobs for the community.
It was really encouraging to see that responsible tourism does happen and it was amazing to hear the stories and witness first hand how the local community benefitted from it. Most importantly, I feel very proud to have played a small role in it! Tourism development was a success story here not because of luck or ideal circumstances, but because the leading idea behind the guesthouse, where it all started, was to benefit the local community. It was, and still is, tourism by the local community for the local community.
* This post is an entry to the World Tourism Day blogger competition.