Israel's Kfar Kama makes UN list of best villages for tourism

Kfar Kama is one of two Circassian villages in Israel and is located in the north.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog and his wife Michal with Circassian dancers at Kafr Kama.  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog and his wife Michal with Circassian dancers at Kafr Kama.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced its 2022 list of the best villages for tourism on Tuesday. Kafr Kama, a Circassian village in northeastern Israel, made the list. The tiny village of just under 3,500 people is one of only two Circassian villages in the country.

"A total of 136 villages were put forward for consideration by 57 UNWTO Member States... for the 2022 edition. From these, 32 were recognized as Best Tourism Villages," the UNWTO wrote on its website. Each member nation is allowed to nominate a maximum of three villages for consideration.

As some countries had multiple nominated villages earn a spot on the list, Israel is one of only 18 countries with a village to earn the accolade.

What Receiving the Award Means

The "best tourism villages" distinction that the winning villages received indicates that they are "rural destinations that are embracing tourism as a driver of development and new opportunities for jobs and income," according to the UNTWO.

Concurrently, the UNTWO says the villages are "preserving and promoting community-based values and products...[and remaining committed] to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental."

 Circassian men in Kafr Kama. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Circassian men in Kafr Kama. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Additionally, the laureate villages are pursuing their tourism development in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Evaluation Criteria

The UNWTO assesses nominated villages by evaluating the villages' "cultural and natural resources," how they promote and conserve their cultural resources, their economic, social and environmental sustainability, their "tourism development and value chain integration," their "governance and prioritization of tourism," "infrastructure and connectivity," as well as the villages' health, safety, and security. 

What is Kafr Kama?

The Circassian people are originally from the north Caucasus Mountain region. From the 18th through the 19th centuries, Russia invaded, occupied, and conquered their country, Circassia. As a result, the Circassians were subject to genocide, ethnic cleansing, and expulsion from the region. 

Today, the Circassian diaspora mostly exists in Middle Eastern countries, including the tiny minority in Israel. Additionally, although the Circassians are overwhelmingly Muslim, unlike other Muslim groups in Israel, they serve in the IDF.

Kafr Kama, although small, is the largest Circassian village in the state. Furthermore, the people there preserve their Circassian heritage and culture. The villagers continue to speak Adyghe, the Circassian language, perform and maintain traditional dances and clothing, marry other Circassians, cook Circassian foods, and so on.

However, while the people of Kafr Kama have their roots firmly planted in their history, traditions, and way of life, they are also concerned with the future and social outreach.

Kafr Kama is home to the Circassian Heritage Center, a beautiful museum housed in a building that dates back to the late 19th century and holds many artifacts that serve to educate visitors on the history and culture of the Circassian people.

Additionally, the village has guest houses, spots to eat traditional Circassian foods and small tourism-based businesses that offer authentic goods and experiences.

Why the UNWTO has this award

The UNWTO created the "best tourism villages" program to help small rural communities survive in the 21st century without losing their cultural and historical heritage.

To this end, the UNWTO has other programs, such as its "Upgrade Program." This program helps villages that didn't meet the criteria to qualify for a spot on the "best tourism villages" list to improve "elements of the areas identified as gaps in the evaluation process."

This year, the Israeli community of Neot Smadar will participate in the Upgrade Program.