Amid rapid industrialization, China banks on eco-tourism

WHEN reading about China’s economy, politics, environment, etc., one word that often springs to mind is “audacious”. The sheer scale, speed and boldness which characterize so many things in the PRC simply do not exist in any other country. Industrialization, development, urbanization, economic liberalization – and of course the pollution that goes along with all that – are perfect examples. If it wants a new metropolis, it builds one. Even if no one ends up living there.

China is not ashamed of trying to have it’s cake and eat it too. And while the environment may be going down the tubes in much of the country, there are still many green areas to develop into sustainable tourism ventures. Yes, China is investing in eco-tourism and one shouldn’t laugh. They may just out-do the rest of Asia before you can say “luxury organic bed and breakfast”.

New and varied eco-tourism projects in China are sprouting up like alfalfa sprouts on a hippy’s windowsill. The Guardian travel section explores a few examples of eco-tourism resorts outside Shanghai, ranging from $45 US per night for a room to luxury villas which start at $735 for two bedrooms. Energy-efficient mud huts and tree top houses, recycled water, organic local food and a closeness to authentic Chinese rural life, without having to forgo any mod cons is just the thing to appeal to the affluent, eco-minded tourist who lacks a taste for backpacking and roughing it.

The mountainous hamlet is covered by bamboo plantations, and sits 700m above the East China plain. Foreigners living in Shanghai started using the hillside as a summer retreat in the late 19th century to escape the stifling summer heat. They were followed by Shanghai’s gang bosses.

–Guardian

Moganshan village, pic: PC in Shenzhen (Flickr CC)

Another, slightly inscrutable, project near Beijing apparently seeks to combine business, manufacturing, housing, tourism and ecology. The so-called “eco-business” area will focus on green economic efforts and leisure industries. The planned new town of circa 6.5 square km will include auto manufacturing sites as well as residential and holiday facilities, a winery and a forest park.

From China Daily:

Based on the leftovers of the once-booming mining villages that have been moved away, the resort will focus on entertainment, tourism and real estate projects to build a high-end leisure community in the outskirts of Beijing.

Geoparks

Ever heard of a geopark? Me neither. But UNESCO, known for their World Heritage Sites, defines a geopark as a “territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons, but also by virtue of archaeological, ecological and cultural value,” according to the Jakarta Post. There are 91 geoparks in the world and nearly a third of them (27) are located in China.

Hong Kong National Geopark, Sai Kung, pic: Justin Friend (Flickr CC)

A comprehensive piece on the problem of development vs. nature preservation appeared in the December 2012 issue of the Condé Nast Traveler:

In spite of the relentless development, China still has amazing biodiversity in habitats ranging from grasslands to tundra to snowy peaks. Much is being done now—both by the government and nongovernmental groups—to preserve it and to regain some of what has been lost. The country is home to 15 percent of the world’s vertebrate species and 12 percent of all plant species, making it third in the world for plant diversity, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (daphnes, camellias, and peonies are among the native Chinese flower varieties treasured by gardeners in the West).

It seems that there are many forces at work in China. Though outsiders may tend to view the state as monolithic, it is a vast, complex and diverse country with manifold interests. True, headlong development and rapid industrialization have and continue to dominate contemporary China’s character, but there are strong efforts to curb and control this development, including outright preservation of natural areas. Eco-tourism is seen by many as a way to do both. This is tricky, but like with all Chinese projects, it will happen on a big scale. Politicians from the province of Guizhou alone have stated that they plan to spend $475bn US on ecotourism projects.

I strongly recommend reading the entire article from Condé Nast Traveler.

Guizhou waterfall, pic: Yu Tung, Brian Chan (Flickr CC)