Geotourism has been an industry buzz word for a while and has kept on shedding new light on the popular trend of tourism.
Geotourism is closely related to Tourism Earthscience, which "is the combination of tourist geography and tourist geology and concerns the investigation, evaluation, exploration and protection of tourism resources," said Chen Anze, a geological expert and pioneer of geotourism in China.
The idea of Tourism Earthscience, created in 1985, refers to a branch of tourism that capitalizes on the geographical characteristics of a place, including geological environment, heritage, aesthetics and culture.
Today, the meaning of the term encompasses all aspects of travel. "The very idea of geotourism and tourism earthscience makes sense when you consider the fact that travelers place high importance on clean, unpolluted environment when they take a trip," said Chen.
Take the Yuntai Mountain World Geopark in central China's Henan Province as an example. Thanks to efforts towards the protection of geological relics, the park's tourist revenue from entrance fee alone increased to more than 100 million yuan (US$12 million) last year, many times the amount in 2000.
Chen noted that geological relics are not recyclable and deserve a high degree of preservation. The development of geotourism requires local authorities to map out concrete and efficient protection measures through studying the relics.
He added that since protecting such relics is critical to tourism development, a certain portion of the tourism revenue should be reserved for this.
Many tourists are keen to learn more about the formation of mountains, springs and other geological relics. Chen noted, "Geological knowledge will spread gradually among the public through geotourism."
One of the most important venues of geotourism are geoparks as they offer travelers both science education and sightseeing.
Geoparks are territories where the geological heritage of the earth is well preserved, protected and sustainably managed.
The concept of geoparks was first advocated by geotourism experts. China is the first country in the world to approve the establishment of national geoparks. In June 2004, the first world geopark conference held in Beijing passed a declaration on geological relics protection and sustainable development.
So far, 12 Chinese geoparks have been approved by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be included in the list of world geoparks. China now has altogether 138 national geoparks, due to the country's larger territory and complicated geographical features.
Chen said the construction of geoparks should focus on three objectives:
enhancing the value of the sites, which act as key witnesses to the earth's evolution;
spreading geological knowledge;
and promoting economic development through offering business and job opportunities to the locals.
Chen pointed out that popularization of geological science is a very important part of geotourism and concrete measures should be carried out for this, including the establishment of geological museums in geoparks, and training of a group of tour guides capable of spreading scientific knowledge to tourists.
In summary, Chen said a geopark should have an operational plan focusing on sustainable tourism development, geological heritage protection, scientific research, popularization of science and broader environmental issues.
(China Daily March 31, 2006)