Ecotourism in Southwest China: Locals take charge

Along with the thriving economy, tourism industry in China has a significant growth in recent years. This fast expanding industry does not always bring benefits to local people. Writes You Li

Earlier this month, a tourist entry fee was introduced to a well-known destination, Fenghuang Old Town. This policy leads to a strike by the local businesses, as they are concerned about the dramatic loss of tourist and high rent fees charged by administrative authorities. Local business man said they had never been informed before the policy was made. But their strike failed in changing the result. This case is not scanty among China’s rural tourist destinations, where local people cannot take a stake in local tourism development.

But in a corner of Southwest China, people tell a different story. With the support from The Nature Conservancy and Lijiang Tourism Bureau, 24 local families established an ecotourism business called The Xintuo Ecotourism Company. This company is located in Lashihai, Yunnan Province, China. Yunnan is where people can enjoy highland lakes, canyons, forests, as well as diverse cultures. There are 56 ethnics are recognized in China, with 52 can be found in Yunnan. The 24 families owning the company are all from an ethnic minority group,  Naxi.

Xintuo aims to empower indigenes people in Northwest Yunnan.  Till now, all the employees of this company are either Naxi or Yi ethnic minorities. They are mainly trained to be tour guides. Xintuo is also providing traditional Naxi homes as accommodation and local people owned restaurants to the tourists. Moreover, 10% of the company’s profit is used in conservation and community development in this region.

If tourists travel in Northwest Yunnan, they can meet 14 ethical minorities, such as Naxi, Tibetan, Yi, Mosuo and Bai people. In each ethical group, people have unique traditions, language, food and buildings. The tour guides lead tourists to local villages, introducing them to local people. In this way, tourists can experience the diverse cultures of the ethnic minority groups.  As all the tour guides in Xintuo are local residents, it is easy for them to remind tourists to respect local culture, avoiding any cultural conflicts due to misunderstanding.

Xintuo also devoted themselves in nature conservation. The mountainous region is of great biodiversity importance, attracting 57 species of migrating birds, such as black-necked crane, black stork and whooper swan. Some other precious species, such as Yunnan golden monkey, black bears and 15 rhododendron species, live in a nature reserve near Laishihai. Therefore Xintuo adopted some strategies for environmental protection. For instance, each group visiting the nature reserve are limited up to ten people, and are always accompanied by a local guide. Guidance is also provided for tourists when they are enjoying the nature. For example, there is guidance of not wearing bright coloured clothing during bird watching, in case of disturbing wildlife.

With the natural beauty surrounded, a series of ecotourism products, such as hiking, cycling, and wildlife watching, are designed and provided to the tourists. There are a wide range of designed trips can be chosen from, tourists also get a chance to tailor their own trip with a local guide.

The self-tailoring trip has received positive feedbacks as a tourist reviewed a trip with Xintuo Ecotourism: «My tailor made trip included a couple of days in the old town of Lijiang, hiking in the Lashihai Wenhai Nature Reserve, hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge, an Awesome drive along winding mountain roads to Zhongdian (Shangri-La) and a couple of days hiking in the Three Parallel Rivers National Park. I had a local Naxi guide, who spoke good English to interpret and show me round some of the off the beaten track places.»

Xintuo develops its own ecotourism products, and also cooperates with other local business, such as Wenhai Ecolodge. This Ecolodge is invested by 56 households from Upper Wenhai Village, who also manage it themselves. Similar to Xintuo, it also contributes 10% of the profits to local conservation and community development.  Xintuo and Wenhai are both members of the Northwest Yunnan Ecotourism Association. But Yunnan is never a limitation. A carbon offsetting company based in Beijing, Carbon Stop, is also working with Xintuo to calculate tourist carbon footprint.

Interestingly, ecotourism may also changes a bit of local people’s lifestyle. There are around 20,000 rural Naxi and Yi people living in Lashihai-Wenhai watershed. Most of them follow the traditional lifestyle, wearing traditional clothing and using charcoal as a main source of energy. However, more and more local families use solar panels for hot water now, just as promoted by the ecotourism businesses.

This local run ecotourism business first started in 2002. After years of development, it remains a small-scale business. The local operators focus on improvements in quality rather than quantity. This is a pioneering practice in China’s tourism industry, and hopefully it provides some answer for the rural tourism development.

If you are interested in this Naxi owned business and want to find more, please follow this link:


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 Date / Fecha: 01/05/13

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