25 October 2011

Community-Based Tourism vs. Regular Tourism

Last week's trip to Issyk-Kul was the first time I'd stayed in a regular tourist place in Kyrgyzstan.  We've done community-based tourism for the rest of our traveling around or stayed with friends.  If we'd been planning the trip we wouldn't have chosen the place we stayed, but it was interesting to try something new.

The resort was lovely, tucked away from the road and right next to the lake.  It was well-manicured, the rooms were clean, the beach was nice, and the food at the restaurant was good.  Overall we had a nice stay.

However, it didn't make me want to switch from CBT.  When we've done CBT or stayed with friends, we feel like we're part of the family, not guests, and especially not paying guests (I can think of one instance where I didn't feel that way, but it was just with one thing, not the entire stay).  At the resort, we felt like we were an inconvenience in every way.  It was difficult to get sheets for the beds, we weren't allowed any extra blankets for the three-year-old who was sleeping on the floor, and they wouldn't let us leave the resort at all till we'd paid for the dirty towels that housekeeping had picked up the night before and not replaced.  (Since it was clear someone had to pay for those towels, it was fine with me that it was us because I felt like they would have made an employee pay for them instead.)

While we were out on our sheet and blanket hunt, we talked to one of the cooks.  She told us is from Karakol, a town on the east side of the lake and several hours away.  She has four children and is only able to see them on the weekends; the rest of the time she sleeps at the hotel.  She also works 16- to 17-hour days.  No, I wasn't impressed.  I wish I'd asked her how much she was making, which is a perfectly acceptable question to ask here, but I'm enough of an American that the thought couldn't have crossed my mind till later.

The women who have CBT homestays (and even if it's a man who's supposed to be running things, it's the women who are doing the work) work hard, but they're not working 16-hour days to host tourists, even on the jailoo where everything is more labor-intensive.  They're also living with their families.  And the money is paid directly to the family with a percentage going to the main CBT office.  Of course, working at a resort is more reliable and you don't have to wait for a tourist to come to your house. 

The room and two meals at the resort cost $122 (plus $25 for the towels- I had no idea towels in KG could cost that much) for a family of four; like I said, there was nothing available for our three-year-old.  A CBT in Karakol costs $50 for a place to sleep and two meals for all five of us.  Certainly the resort was nicer, but I am ever so much more comfortable with CBT. 

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