China keen to develop ecotourism despite challenges

Wed Oct 15, 2008 1:45am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Tourism in China today is often a messy and unpleasant business. Thousands pack tourist hotspots, development can be poorly planned and service standards are lacking. But one specialist sees a bright spot: ecotourism.

Norbert Trehoux of Marseilles-based TEC, a consulting agency specializing in the tourism, transport and environmental sectors, is convinced this niche sector could attract well-heeled foreign visitors to poor parts of China hoping to leverage their natural beauty to generate much-needed income.

Yet he admits the industry faces some pretty tough obstacles.

"In China there is a national policy -- they want to develop ecotourism. But today, the definition of ecotourism is not the one we have in Western countries," he told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

Provinces such as those in the scenic southwest, including Yunnan and Sichuan, are at the forefront of this push.

Still, many supposed ecotourism resorts which have been developed are far from rural idylls, Trehoux said.

"It's more like Disneyland," he added. "You don't go there to be quiet and to relax or to trek. They are more like theme parks. Some have small zoos, and lots of restaurants. This is ecotourism today in China."

Tourism is already big business in China, generating more than 1 trillion yuan ($146.4 billion) in revenues last year, according to the official Xinhua news agency.   Continued...