Ecotourism in China is considered to be still in the development stages. It isn’t particularly clear why ecotourism in China is relatively non-existent, but it has been attributed to the relatively low domestic travel rates within China, as well as the high cost of making travel eco-friendly, and the lack of true ecotourism accommodation in China. Furthermore, the lack of true ecotourism practices, policies, and guidelines in China have recently been associated with the degradation of some natural and tourist sites. Until China is able to properly regulate, as well as increase interest in, its ecotourism industry, ecotourism in China will remain a very small and continually developing industry.
Problems with Ecotourism Development in China
One of the fundamental problems with ecotourism in China is that the existing developments have not been done in the most sustainable manner. Ecotourism’s true meaning has been skewed slightly by the tour operators in the establishment of ecotourism sites. With the intention of allowing tourists to experience the natural splendour of China’s outdoors, sites have been developed to make the experience as accessible as possible – allowing vans, buses, cars, and building bridges, hotels, and other infrastructure. The problem is, this has been done without considering the impact on the natural environment these tourists are coming to see.
Ecotourism development must consider the environment, along with local cultures and the local economy, and ecotourism is an oft-confused term. While ecotourism does involve extensive engagement with nature and outdoor recreation, it also needs to be done sustainably, and the associated infrastructure should take this into consideration.
Sites of Potential Ecotourism in China
Much of ecotourism in China is based near Tibet, which, depending on who you talk to, is or isn’t in China. The areas of China that are near Tibet, like Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, are where ecotourism in China first gained traction. The beautiful landscapes and dramatic mountainous backgrounds created the foundations for ecotourism in China, and continue to be the most popular areas for ecotourism activity and development. Many resorts have been developed somewhat unsustainably and somewhat unnaturally, however some ecotourism outfitters in this region have developed in a mostly sustainable manner.
Existing Ecotourism in China – Yunnan
There is a tour operator in Yunnan, China, who appears to be successfully engaged in ecotourism. XinTuo Ecotourism operates ecotours in Yunnan province that include environmental learning, birdwatching, and engagement with local cultures. XinTuo is owned and operated by 24 Naxi families, a minority ethnic group native to this region. The Naxi community is rich in cultural heritage, and are welcoming to ecotourists looking for authentic cultural engagement. Many of XinTuo’s tours include cultural and physical aspects, such as hiking and trekking.
The Future of Ecotourism in China
Ecotourism in China, in order to be a sustainable and developed industry, needs to follow some of the key tenets of ecotourism. The government, locally and federally, needs to be involved in regulating ecotourism, zoning, protected areas, and generally providing a framework for sustainable ecotourism development. The implementation of sustainable tourism development indicators, such as carrying capacities, as well as monitoring and regulation of development, in conjunction with academics and external consultants, is the key to a sustainable future for ecotourism in China.
Photo Credit: Lon&Queta