The travesty of ecotourism in China

By Niu Binwu
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, March 16, 2010
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According to a survey conducted by the Chinese National Committee for Man and the Biosphere, 22 percent of China's natural reserves and 11 percent of tourist sites have been degraded by so-called "ecotourism". We need to pay urgent attention to this problem.

The concept of ecotourism was first proposed by the World Conservation Union in 1983. Its two principal maxims are that tourist destinations should be natural scenery and that tourists should not harm the destinations. In China, many tour operators try to attract visitors by offering the chance to "experience nature and the environment," but few understand the concept of ecotourism, and even fewer tourists have any idea of their responsibilities toward nature.

The majority of people think ecotourism just means outdoor recreation. And they want to enjoy all the conveniences of city life at their destination. In other words they want to experience breathtaking natural beauty without breaking into a sweat. This means building bridges, cable cars, luxury hotels, shops, spas and discos. Popular tourist sites are soon transformed into mountain metropolises.

When a site is turned into a so-called ecotourism destination without proper research and planning, the results can be disastrous; forests, water sources, plants, and rare species can be severely damaged or destroyed.

The fact is that ecotourism is a complex, high tech industry. Protecting and conserving nature is the primary goal of eco-tour operators. Local governments have to lay down strict rules, for example, excluding tourists from key natural reserves. Academic research should be allowed in buffer areas and tourists should only be allowed in certain restricted zones. The number of tourists should also be strictly controlled in line with the environmental capacity of each site.

Tourists must also be made aware of their responsibility for ecological protection. They should not disturb animals, and learn to observe the nature quietly. Acceptable activities are photography, sketching and exploring. They must be absolutely forbidden to leave rubbish, climb and damage trees, or pollute water.

Real ecotourism is environmentally-friendly, permits sustainable development, and preserves the beauty of nature as a legacy to our children and grandchildren.

(This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Ren Zhongxi.)

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