CBT Kyrgyzstan, short for Community-Based Tourism, is an organisation pretty much every backpacker will encounter on their trip to Kyrgyzstan. There is a lot of confusion about what exactly CBT is, though. Let us clear things up.
What is CBT Kyrgyzstan?
CBT was set up by Swiss development agency Helvetas in the early 2000s to develop tourism in Kyrgyzstan. A head office coordinates from Bishkek, and 15 regional offices have been set up in all parts of Kyrgyzstan.
Helvetas has now, for the most part, left the project. The day-to-day operations as well as all decision-making at the higher level are in local hands.
What does CBT do?
CBT offices organise homestays and yurtstays, tours, guides and porters.
What is the difference between CBT and other tour operators?
Are the local CBT offices administered as private companies with private profits for the local administrators? Or do they give back more to the community than other tour operators?
Does buying through CBT mean that more money ends up in the hands of local homestays and guides than if you would buy through a different tour operator? Or less?
Difficult questions to answer.
Much depends on the personality of the local coordinator, making it difficult for us to comment on CBT as a whole.
In general, though, we would say there is no difference in terms of the “community” benefits.
All tour operators in Kyrgyzstan visit the same locally-owned homestays and yurtstays. All employ local guides. Not all of them are focused on sustainable tourism (very few, really) but the same could be said of the CBT coordinators.
CBT, together with other community-based tourism organisations like Shepherd’s Life, must be credited for setting up the system of yurtstays throughout Kyrgyzstan. Now that it is firmly established, it is hard to see where lies the difference with other tour operators.
Pros and cons
- No advance booking is needed. With offices in every corner of the country, it is the easiest way to book travel services on the spot in Kyrgyzstan
- Works with people from the area. Other tour operators might use guides from different parts of Kyrgyzstan
- Guides are generally less professional than with other companies
- The service quality will be lower (think quality of cars, food, organisation, responsibility) for a similar price
This is our honest opinion, based on our conversations with CBT coordinators, people who used to be CBT coordinators, guides, homestay owners and tourists using CBT services. Please correct us if you think we are wrong.
Now it is your turn. We made forum threads for the different CBT offices – we welcome your feedback.