While Chinese tourism at present may be characterized by tour groups and megaphone-wielding guides, a one-day bus tour of the Great Wall with a lengthy stop-off at a jade shop may not cut it for the China traveler for much longer.
Over the past few years, travelers in China, both domestic and foreign, have begun to ditch the tour group and explore rural villages and out-of-the-way scenic spots. Research by the China National Tourism Association (CNTA) and the Pacific Asia Travel Association calculates that rural tourist destinations in China now attract 300 million visitors annually.
Not only is this new breed of tourist traveling independently, a growing number of travelers are making an effort to go green as well. With increasing foot-traffic to China’s rural or natural sites, international NGOs and environmentalists have turned their efforts to tourism. The nature charity WWF has established a scheme to train local guides at nature reserves in Sichuan, while in Yunnan, The Nature Conservancy has established the country’s first green national park, Pudacuo, which is modeled on the American national park system. Other efforts include a scattered number of eco-lodges and smaller projects like Haobao Organic Farm, located in a valley outside of Kunming and run by a local Chinese farmer.
This trend is also being seen at the top-end of the market. URBN, a boutique hotel in Shanghai which opened late last year, purports to be China’s first carbon-neutral hotel. While in Beijing, tour operator Wild China offers luxury travel packages of a sustainable nature.
This year, these green tourism projects are being given an official helping hand. The CNTA has named 2009 “Chinese Ecotourism Year” and kicked off the year with a party in Sanya, Hainan attended by the mayor, the governor of Hainan, the deputy governor of Yunnan and a dozen tourism officials. “There is a rising conscience among the Chinese to travel a different way,” said Norbert Trehoux of TEC, an environmental tourism council based in Marseille that has just set up a branch in Anhui Province.
However, while the Chinese tourism authorities are certainly trumpeting their green credentials, what this will mean in reality is open to debate. “How it works in China is that they’ll have all these slogans but only after four or so years will [policy making] actually start,” said Albert Ng, CEO of Wild China. “They don’t really know what it means, but they’re talking about it.”
Indeed, the slogan for China’s ecotourism year encourages citizens to “be a green traveler and experience eco- civilization,” but the implementation of this green traveling is dubious. “Right now, ecotourism is still best characterized as an embryonic market,” said Chris Horton, founder of Gokunming.com and business managing director for The Meridian Group, a consultancy and research firm focusing on southwest China.
Horton pointed out that both in Yunnan, where many ecotourism projects are based, and across China as a whole, naturebased tourism is often marketed as being environmentally friendly, but in practice places little emphasis on conservation and environmental or social awareness.
“A disturbingly high percentage of these country getaways are actually formerly pristine areas, which urbanites drive their SUVs to on the weekend in order to over-consume and, in the end, damage the local ecosystem,” he said. “Much of China’s nature-oriented tourism is misleadingly called ‘ecotourism’ in an attempt to cash in on consumer guilt without actually making things better.”
This article is quoted from ‘China International Business’ published on 2009-02-10. Follow the green link to read the Download the original article written by Lily Kuo.
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