Posted on November 6, 2017

Responsible Tourism Panel Examines Impact of Chinese Travel

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Both domestically and around the world, Chinese tourism is surging. But what’s not often discussed is whether these ever-growing numbers are sustainable from an ecological standpoint. In November, 2017, for the first time, WTM London hosted a panel discussion on responsible tourism from a Chinese perspective to tackle this question. At the panel, Roy Graff, Managing Director – EMEA of Dragon Trail Interactive, spoke alongside China inbound tourism company Benmo’s Elizabeth Morell, and the UN World Tourism Organization’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Xu Jing.

Morell presented a picture of how to engage in responsible tourism within China, introducing both grassroots and top-down government approaches to creating tourism that benefits local environments and communities. Among the examples she included were the World Wildlife Fund’s work in the Qinling Mountains, the repurposed Brickyard at the Great Wall, and eco-retreats at Moganshan outside Shanghai.

Turning to the Chinese outbound tourism market – which numbered 122 million in 2016 – Graff explained that “it has the potential of quickly overwhelming a destination.” A good example of this is Bali, which received 2 million Chinese tourists this year, and is hoping to raise that number to 10 million by 2019. But already, Bali is experiencing overtourism, and accompanying environmental problems like water overuse and pollution that is killing the surrounding coral reefs.

Still, Graff maintained that tourism can be a force for good, and much less damaging than other industries. The key is for governments to listen to local communities, he said, encouraging tourism on a smaller scale, education of tourists on their impact, and a shift towards courting independent tourism over big group tours.

Xu Jing looked at responsible tourism from a social perspective – of the 500 million Chinese lifted out of poverty since 1981, 17% of these have been thanks to tourism. With Chinese representing one out of every 10 tourists in the world, the focus shouldn’t be limiting numbers, he said, but dispersing them better, even within one country or destination.

Xu Jing and Graff both talked about Chinese digital platforms as an important way to reach and educate the Chinese market about responsibility and sustainability in tourism. The UNWTO director stressed the need to focus on WeChat and other Chinese digital platforms, and Graff pointed to Chinese OTA Qyer.com’s partnership with wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. Graff also gave several positive examples that point to raised awareness about sustainability and environmental impacts within China – successful campaigns by the government, NGOs and local people to slow the trade of endangered species, from ivory to shark’s fin.

Though discussed far less frequently than the sheer rise of Chinese tourism numbers and the efforts of destinations to court these new travelers, responsible tourism initiatives will be crucial to ensuring that this growth is sustainable and desirable by communities around the world, and within China as well.

Click here for more information on WTM London’s Responsible Tourism Partnership.

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