Ecotourism the way to go for China? Yeah Right!

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Monday, October 20, 2008

Here is some wishful thinking: China as an ecotourism destination.

It's a little too late, in my humble opinion.

That option was available in the 1990s, but instead China went for mass tourism.

So this story from Reuters, reporting about a guy called Norbert, seems to say that China has the potential to be into ecotourism, but really it is saying, 'not likely'.

Why? Rich Chinese are interested in wildlife. Particularly eating exotic animals which will increase their libido.

Even Western NGO efforts have floundered.

Want to see rare monkeys in Yunnan? Some guys will hound them down the hillside so you can see them.

Where's the best place to see rare and endangered animals? Either a concrete zoo or a Gaungzhou restaurant.

Want to get away from it all and escape the crowded city? Then head to a jungle resort with 24 KTV.

Want to learn more about minority cultures? Then go watch a song and dance show, and later, head to a brothel to experience first hand how the ethnic minorities are exploited.

Want to stay in an award-winning boutique hotel in remote Tibet? [just what Norbert praised] First, you have to ignore the on-going battle between the local villagers and the Singaporean hotel chain. Second, don't pay any tips to the staff, because they are earning at least $10 a day.

Western tourists are less of an influence in China's tourism now. They used to be. But now it is Chinese who out-number foreigners 10 to 1 or more in every place in China.

Though, as China's RMB comes up to real levels, more Chinese will get passports and travel overseas. And like the 50%+ of students who don't come back, many of those who go overseas will see the grass is greener, and the air is cleaner - elsewhere.

China keen to develop ecotourism despite challenges

Tourism in China today is often a messy and unpleasant business. Thousands pack tourist hotspots, development can be poorly planned and service standards are lacking.

But one specialist sees a bright spot: ecotourism.

Norbert Trehoux of Marseilles-based TEC, a consulting agency specializing in the tourism, transport and environmental sectors, is convinced this niche sector could attract well-heeled foreign visitors to poor parts of China hoping to leverage their natural beauty to generate much-needed income.

Yet he admits the industry faces some pretty tough obstacles.

"In China there is a national policy -- they want to develop ecotourism. But today, the definition of ecotourism is not the one we have in Western countries," he told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

Provinces such as those in the scenic southwest, including Yunnan and Sichuan, are at the forefront of this push.

Still, many supposed ecotourism resorts which have been developed are far from rural idylls, Trehoux said.

"It's more like Disneyland," he added. "You don't go there to be quiet and to relax or to trek. They are more like theme parks. Some have small zoos, and lots of restaurants. This is ecotourism today in China."

Tourism is already big business in China, generating more than 1 trillion yuan ($146.4 billion) in revenues last year, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Though there are no exact figures for the ecotourism segment, a government-sponsored push for rural tourism - usually involving staying with farmers - has become popular in China in recent years.

That gives Trehoux hope that in future more and more Chinese will opt for ecotourism, as opposed to the mass tourism in groups generally favored at present.

"The market is changing. There are Western influences everywhere, and China is going greener," he said. "I met some Chinese people in Shanghai, and they don't want to travel like their parents. They are fed up with the flag, and the microphone. They don't want this any more."

Ecotourism in China is also attracting some well-known international boutique chains. Singapore's Banyan Tree runs an award-winning hotel in a remote, Tibetan part of Yunnan which incorporates many aspects of the local culture.

While the government's aim is currently to attract wealthy Westerners to these types of places, Trehoux said that ultimately Chinese will comprise the majority of customers.

"They want to attract Western tourists, but in 20 years time they won't care about Western tourists. They will have high-end Chinese tourists. They will have people who are prepared to spend thousands to spend a night in a remote place," he said.
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