Profit or nature: Yunnan gives answer
Published: Nov 22, 2023 10:43 PM
Illustrations:Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustrations:Liu Xiangya/GT

It is said that in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, spring lingers all year round, offering tourists who travel during winter a sheath of warmth as they enjoy the eco-tourism provided by local residents. Amid the soothing air of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture near the border with Myanmar, the local residents are developing a more mature win-win situation for both the economy and travelers.  

In China, Yunnan is a haven for biodiversity and a model for environmental conservation, with researchers and ecologists working to maintain its unique ecosystems. It is home to 59 percent of China's rainforests, which are vital for preserving wildlife and biodiversity. Tourism is also a key pillar of Yunnan's economy, contributing to nearly 20 percent of its GDP. It generates income, employment and investment thanks to its valuable forest ecosystem services. 

However, balancing biodiversity and tourism is not an easy task. It requires careful planning and management to avoid negative impacts on nature. Yunnan, with its rich wildlife, has shown some exemplary practices in this regard. 

In Jinuo village near Jinghong city in Xishuangbanna, the local ethnic Jinuo people, who have been living and protecting the rainforests in the mountains for generations, are adapting to modern society with their innovative ideas on how to develop their economy. With the help of businessmen and enterprises, they have started a small hiking business. Under the guidance of professional guides, a small group of 10 tourists can enter the rainforest and observe the wildlife closely. 

But the locals are also aware of the potential risks that such activities pose to the environment, and they have taken precautions to prevent irreversible damage. The guides only lead the tourists to the outskirts of the forest, as the core area of the rainforest is off-limits to visitors according to local regulations. 

The hiking program has become a hit and indispensable part of the eco-tourism experience, especially with the help of social media promotion by enterprises. 

The locals are not the only ones who are conscious of the importance of tourism transformation and biodiversity protection. Seeking to carry out large-scale tourism and science lessons without disturbing biodiversity research, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, covering an area of 1,125 hectares, has come up with a clever way to combine scientific research and public education. 

Yunnan is home to nearly 20,000 plant and 2,000 animal species, the majority of which are locally distinctive.

The botanical garden alone collects and preserves more than 13,000 plants from home and abroad, as well as large areas of tropical rainforest. It is one of the largest and richest botanical gardens in China.

The botanical garden has established the "Southeast Asia Biodiversity Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences" with Myanmar, which is dedicated to biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asian countries and has become a model of scientific and technological cooperation between China and Southeast Asia. Additionally, it receives more than 800,000 visitors every year and has become a national science popularization education base. 

Here, people can directly pick and taste the leaves of plants such as laurel and cinnamon under the guidance of professional guides. Of course, the number of people will also be controlled accordingly. 

According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism employs one out of 10 people on Earth. In a message from UN chief Antonio Guterres on World Tourism Day on September 27, he said: "Investing in sustainable tourism is investing in a better future for all of us."

Although sustainability challenges have been part of discussions in the industry in recent years, widespread recognition of the issue is still lacking. As key players in the economy, organizations from all walks of life within the eco-tourism sector need to adopt a more proactive approach to protecting an area with one of the richest wildlife resources in China. 

To support this, the Yunnan government has introduced a protective plan for biodiversity, strengthened the monitor and evaluation of wildlife by building an information platform that can be shared by multiple research institutions, and at the same time promoted international cooperation with neighboring countries. 

Biodiversity provides resources and an environment for tourism, while tourism provides benefits and support for biodiversity conservation, thus complementing each other.

Here, from tropical rainforests to botanical gardens, different institutions have devised scientific tourism plans that suit local conditions such as avoiding development in ecologically sensitive areas, controlling tourism capacity and implementing sustainable tourism modes. 

At the same time, highlighting Yunnan's biodiversity features, improving tourism quality, and enhancing tourists' ecological responsibility also promote the balance between tourism and biodiversity.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times.