How sustainable tourism can benefit China

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Photo: Liu Rui/GT

Countries do not need all kind of tourists – just the right type in the right numbers since tourism has to be sustainable. Some countries are blessed with a good image that is often easily earned. I call these the overrated ones. My heart rests with the underrated and forgotten. I have a soft spot for countries with great potential for that extra boost in soft power – in this case through the power of travel and the connection that it allows us to have.

China is never short when it comes to domestic tourism thanks to 1.3 billion people and their continuous passion for adventure. Yet, there is an obvious deficit when comparing foreign visitors to China with Chinese globetrotters. Travel is their way of connecting and seeing the world and much focus has been placed on the potential and power of outbound travel. There remains much more than can be done to improve the gap we see between outbound and inbound travel. Engagement is a two-way affair.

China, as one of the world’s longest continuous civilizations, is home to 56 ethnic groups and an abundance of sites. Oh, China is also safe! This helps to meet a wide range of demands for foreign travellers. From food lovers to art fanatics to those with an eye for architecture, nature and scenery, extreme sports, culture and history, you name it. The Middle Kingdom remains intriguing like she was centuries ago and that spirit of discovery and exploration remains.

For my foreign friends who do make it to China, the common complaint I hear is the visa. Despite government efforts to open up the nation to travellers as seen by Hainan’s 30-day visa-free travel entry for 59 Nations and the transit visa lasting 144 hours among some Chinese cities, the Chinese visa still remains a hassle and difficult in the minds of many. Altering this perception is easy since, during my encounters with foreign travellers, they have expressed the satisfaction of adding China onto their itinerary and have already begun to make full use of the free transit visa scheme.

Such a positive visa policy should continue and also be enforced in a way to promote tourism away from the main entry points in China which happens to be also the first-tier cities that are congested from which I hear another complaint – the lines are too long.

As far as image goes, it is very easy for people to associate China with smoggy days. While this is true, let’s not forget that there is more to China than just the northern parts. Also, China is not only suited for travel during winter. With more promotions, campaigns and attention placed on providing services that are friendly and with that extra thoughtful touch, I’m sure more travellers are willing to see different parts of China in different seasons and not be bunched up together at the usual sites. This can greatly add to the charm that comes with travel – not being exposed to the overly commercial and predictable side but something more genuine.

While China excels at large-scale infrastructure such as railway networks, infrastructure at the micro-level can always be improved. While popular cities and tourist attractions have multilingual signs, maps and staff to provide additional support, in the lower-tier cities and some less known spots, this is one area that could be improved.

Also, having more toilet facilities and clean ones too across tourist sites would be convenient especially for female travellers since I’ll always remember waiting 15 minutes in the queue during my visit to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding a year ago.

There’s an online joke, saying that only rich people travel within China. It might be an exaggeration but is definitely true to a degree. Out of all my backpacking adventures, I have found sites within China pricier. While I agree that the price tag is needed to discourage over-tourism and have it go to preservation works, a little more drop in prices will ensure that everyone can afford and enjoy it.

China is No.2 in the list of countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites. This includes both natural scenery and sites of great cultural and historical significance. China is also the only country in Asia to make it to the top 5, one site short of taking first place – currently held by Italy. Much remains to be done for China to reach and utilize all its potential.

Read the full article at Global Times: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1133653.shtml

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