“The highly innovative best practice case studies presented show that China is at the forefront of grass-roots responsible tourism development,” said Martin Craigs, CEO of the Bangkok-based Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
The sold out forum, organised by PATA in co-operation with the Organising Committee of the China International Heritage Towns Exposition, was moderated by CCTV Business News anchor Deidre Morris Wang. Coinciding with the launch of the new PATA China Board, the PATA China Beijing Chapter and first PATA Student Chapter in China at Beijing International Studies University, the forum brought together more than 130 delegates from the country’s public and private sectors, as well as national and international experts in the field of responsible tourism.
Responsible tourism thought leaders such as Professor Zhang Guangrui of the Chinese Academy of Social Science, Dr. Chen Xu of the China Tourism Academy, Professor Geoffrey Lipman of Greenearth.travel, Anna Pollock of DestiCorp, Peter Semone of Lanith in Lao, Mason Florence of Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, and UNESCO Beijing Office Director Beatrice Kaldun, all provided pertinent insights.
The aim of this first forum, which will become an annual event, was to stimulate debate between the tourism industry and government on the critical issue of responsible tourism.
“Our long term goal,” said Kate Chang, Director of PATA’s China office, “is to help protect the heritage and culture of ancient towns and villages in China, at the same time, carefully developing them to boost tourism and generate economic growth and employment for local communities.”
The case studies presented, which included local examples such as the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu and the scattered hotel in Beigou to the west of Mutianyu, all had a social mission. Each project was designed to re-invigorate abandoned or neglected villages, generate new jobs through tourism, and to restore and preserve ancient heritage and customs.
Presenting a case study of Guizhou province, “one of China’s hidden treasures,” Ms Mei Zhang, Founder of WildChina, spoke of the importance of buy-in and engagement on the part of all stakeholders – from local villagers to local governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), tourists and volunteers from international schools.
“We encourage our tour guides to talk to the local villagers and to give them books to increase knowledge and awareness, thereby helping to bring about social change,” said Mei Zhang. “Most importantly, profit-sharing strategies need to be devised and developed in partnership with government and responsible travel operators.”
Generating increased awareness of the importance of responsible, or sustainable tourism is critical, said speakers. "China’s history of many thousands of years has produced a glorious heritage. It is very important for both Chinese and foreigners to appreciate this", said Mr Lan Jun, Executive Vice President and Secretary General of the China Council for the Promotion of Nationalities Trade, and Director of the Organising Committee of China International Heritage Towns Exposition.
“Tourism has been earmarked as a pillar industry of the national economy,” said Ms Wang Yan, Deputy Director General of the Department of Tourism Promotion and International Liaison, China National Tourism Administration (CNTA).
“It is clear that travel and tourism will have a major, and increasing, impact on the destinations people visit,” Ms Wang said. “We must therefore all assume our social responsibility and take active measures to protect our environment and heritage.”
Over the course of the coming year, building on the results of the first China Responsible Tourism Forum, PATA and the new PATA China Chapter, will focus on improving and increasing communication about the importance of responsible tourism for China’s heritage towns and villages. PATA and its partners will take advantage of the many new channels available, such as the internet and social media.
“Leveraging the wisdom of the crowds can go way beyond marketing on social media channels such as Facebook or Sina Weibo,” said Jens Thraenhart, Chair of the PATA Chapter and President, Dragon Trail China, an award-winning travel technology and digital marketing company.
“Engaging people to become part of the responsible tourism development process such as research, product development and micro-financing will create sustainable ambassadors to spread the word naturally,” he said.
A full report of the first China Responsible Tourism forum will be posted in the next few weeks on www.PATAchina.org, together with the case study presentations.
The second China Responsible Tourism Forum will be held in April 2012, and will introduce the Annual China Responsible Tourism Awards. Organized as a collaboration between PATA and China Travel Trends, the new awards will recognize innovative and experiential responsible tourism businesses in China. Finalists will be invited to present at the second China Responsible Tourism Forum in front of delegates and the judging panel.