Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism in China

With China's tourism booming ahead of the 2008 Olympics, its ecosystem in need of smart, ground-up solutions, and its rural areas eager to build their GDP, ecotourism seems like a no-brainer. The Wenhai Ecolodge in stunning Yunnan province is one famous example. But as usual, attempts at sound ecological approaches are rarely supported by local or central governments, and are even stymied by government policies and a strong emphasis on quick profits. Making matters more complicated of course is the loose definition of ecotourism, which, in places like scenic Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, can sometimes mean nothing more than a resort near some trees. Meanwhile, the tense dance of tourism and development means that even the sincerest ecotourism sites face the threat of their own success.

Julie Perng reports at China Development Brief (the Beijing office of which was shut down by authorities last summer) on eco-tourism at four sites in Yunnan:

None of the sites has seen much government investment in eco-tourism, nor do they have much control over their own land or landmarks.... [And] as a result of government interventions and the drive to maximise profits, the villages described here may never be able to sustain a true "eco-tourist" label. Nevertheless, individuals and groups in all of these sites are working to realise their own notion of eco-tourism.
On a trip to the south of Yunnan province last year, in the sub-tropical Xishuangbanna region near Myanmar, friends and I eagerly undertook a trek only to discover that the path had become a large dusty road. Here we competed for space with large machinery preparing to pave the way, apparently, to eventually accommodate tourist buses. Our hopes of discovering wild China had been dashed by thousands of similar hopes. It was a quick lesson in the state of tourism in China, and it was a powerful one.

In the face of such development, Perng identifies some key ingredients to a successful ecotourism project in a place like China: local management of eco-tourism, reinvestment of profits back into the community and certain infrastructure development, training of locals by experienced NGOs, ecological education of visitors, support (or non-interference) from regional government, and small bureaucracy. In the quiet villages of Yuhu and Shaxi, where locals mostly manage eco-tourism and where NGOs have lent a helping hand, Perng finds relative success stories.

Another project, in the village of Jisha , shows the potential for smart eco-tourism growth in the area--and the pitfalls that lie ahead. After the Kunming-based Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK), a local NGO, spearheaded an eco-tourism development as a way to stimulate the village economy following a national logging ban, a large developer moved in with other plans: an "eco-development" atop the central mountain with a number of hotels and a cable car running up the side. Locals petitioned successfully against the project, a first in China.

"Community-based eco-tourism is ideal in these mountain communities, but resource conflicts, inadequate access to information, and lack of transparency put those communities in a bad situation," says Li Bo, who led the CBIK project.

Meanwhile, in the village of Dimaolou, within the famed Three Parallel Rivers region, eco-tourism is proving productive (although the looming threat of a controversial series of dams could easily dash its dreams).

"We need outsiders who love this place" to show villagers how to love and appreciate it, one villager says. Just as the presence of curious visitors in your hometown can help you better appreciate it, so eco-conscious visitors to China's provinces might indirectly help promote a sense of environmental awareness among locals. But that sort of awareness really begins with the responsible tourist.

Feng Yongfeng, in a piece at China Dialogue about Yunnan's Yushi village, reminds tourists from China and overseas of our own responsibility in eco-tourism -- in any tourism really:


Travellers who go abroad to learn and share experiences are being replaced by narrow-minded tourists who are only interested in consumption...

So when we complain about eco-tourism operators failing to attract visitors, perhaps we should take some time to consider the visitors themselves — because if a tourist is unwilling to become an eco-tourist, then any amount of careful planning and good intentions will be wasted.

via China Development Brief
Links

Some recommended eco-tourism destinations and resources in China include
Lashihai and Wenhai, near Lijiang (including Wenhai Ecolodge), Alou's lodge in Dimalou, the Lashihai Xintuo Ecotourism Company, Conservation International's Green Travel Guide and Wild China, which runs tours in western China. (Thanks to Lexi Tuddenham)

China Daily and WWF on ecotourism in China

See also Conservation International's China Green Travel and China's Biodiversity Clearinghouse

Photo by Engtat

Tags: China | Tourism

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