Shangri-La 1st Workshop on National Park & Sustainable Tourism Development

(Jan 16-17, 2006)



In October 2005, the Yunnan Mountain Handicraft Center YMHC organised the first “Gathering of Friends of Diqing in Shangri-La”. On that opportunity, Diqing authorities, aware of the potentials and of the challenges ahead, requested YMHF support to set-up this workshop.
The workshop took place in Shangri-La(Zhongdian), Diqing Prefecture, Yunnan Province of China, on January 16 and 17, 2006. It was jointly planned and organised by Diqing Prefecture Government / Vice Governor Shi Zongkai and by the Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation / Mr. Gerard Burgermeister.

Map of Diqing Prefecture in Yunnan Province (Source: Shi Zongkai presentation)

Diqing is one of the ten Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in China and is rich in scenic beauty, biodiversity and minority culture. It lies at the heart of the “Three Parallel Rivers” area (Nu Jiang / Salween, Lancang / Mekong and Jinsha / upper Yangtze), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over 100 mountains higher than 4000 m, with the tallest peak being the holy, spectacular and unconquered, 6740 m high Kawagebo, covered year-round with snow and glaciers. Several areas have been classified as nature reserves and the Prefecture is getting ample attention from conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge and the WWF, due to its still abundant forests and exceptional biodiversity.
The prefecture has recently started to attract domestic and international tourists and hopes to follow southern neighbours Dali and Lijiang, which annually receive 2.5 millions tourists each. The region is also starting to feel the impact of China’s accelerated economic development and has plans to build significant infrastructure in the coming years, such as numerous roads, dams and mines.

Some of the points brought forward for discussion during the two day workshop include the following:

Developing Tourism

o Tourism has been chosen by Yunnan authorities as the main pillar of Diqing economic development.
o Exceptional natural and cultural resources are the main tourism attraction in Diqing.o The Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site and the “Shangri-La” brand represent the best marketing values for environment- and culture-based tourism.
Tourism is growing fast: from 15,000 tourists in 1994 to 2.6 millions in 2005, with considerable job creation and impact on local GDP. [Note: these numbers include tourists travelling only to Tiger Leaping Gorge, near Lijiang]

oHow many tourists are too many?
o The Chinese Government has invested more than 12 billions RMB in 5 years to develop tourism destinations and infrastructures in Diqing.
o Diqing aims at becoming a famous tourism destination in China and abroad. The goal for 2010 are 4.5 millions tourists with about 9% of them coming from abroad, with the tourism sector climbing to 70% of the Prefecture GDP.
o Focus will be on the following four “products”: Sightseeing and Business Conference, Nature and Eco-travel, Ethnical Minority Culture and Scientific Research and Expeditions.
o Tourism development coordination will be strengthened with Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan and with neighbouring Sichuan and Tibet.
o As can be seen from Jiuzhaigou example, per-capita income resulting from nature-oriented tourism can grow faster than the national average. Some tourism experts also consider that, in beautiful north western Yunnan, income from tourism and related sectors could be much bigger than from mining and hydro-electricity.
o Focus in Yunnan has been almost exclusively on the number of tourism and not enough on the kind of tourists and on the net revenue per tourist.
o Eco-tourism v. mass tourism: how can Diqing find a sustainable path forward in tourism development

Developing Infrastructure

o International experience shows that without proper controls, planning and sustainable ecologically based programs, tourism leads to degradation of flora and fauna (e.g. deforestation due to infrastructure development), pollution (sewage, waste), conflicts between local residents and tourism organizations, limited access to places and resources, disruption of traditional lifestyle and over-dependency on tourism. Without proper care, mass tourism negatively impacts the local cultures.
o The recreational opportunities, their settings, their carrying capacity are all important to how people enjoy their visit, what they are prepared to pay and whether they will come back.
o A National Park must be built on the following principles: scientific master plan, nature conservation, integrated management and sustainable use of resources.
o Management of national parks in most countries aims to minimise any harm to people, by regulating activities, guaranteeing appropriately trained guides and safe facilities.

Conservation and Scenic Areas within the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site
(Source: Prof Yang Rui presentation)

Shangri-La National Park Vision…

The creation of Shangri-La National Park will have many benefits, such as: improving nature conservation in the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, reducing conflicts between nature conservation and local population, boosting the qualitative development of Northwestern Yunnan and improving the status of nature conservation in Yunnan Province.
Some of the concluding thoughts from the two day workshop included the following points: o Developing the Park should provide a factor for progress for local communities, improving the living condition and standard of local people.
o The Preservation of Culture is an important platform for Shangri-La National Park.
o The Establishment of Shangri-La National Park should be guided by the modern goals and standards on biodiversity protection, as defined by UNESCO and IUCN.
o Shangri-La National Park should pursue the triple goal of becoming a model for nature protection areas, growing to a world-famous tourism area and offering environmental education and a valuable tourism experience to the public.

Other salient points discussed:

– Protection of biodiversity and cultural heritage while planning tourism.
– Involvement of the local communities (for the sake of both nature conservation and economic development and to guarantee a better experience for the tourists).
-Product development and marketing.
– Coordination by a single focal institution.
– Monitoring of tourism and its impact
– Capacity building of all the stakeholders.

The specific recommendations are as follows:

a. Nature conservation, cultural preservation

– Many tourism activities are suitable in a national park. The selection depends on what environmental and cultural values need to be protected in the park. Once this is decided, planning for tourism activities can begin
– Develop special protection and site management plans for sensitive habitats (e.g. golden monkey, Bita Lake area), special visitor infrastructure and facilities
– When building new tourism infrastructure there should be due consideration of local use and values (e.g. sacred sites). Environmental and social impact assessments will be of great importance.
– Regulate tourism operations to the Songzanlin and other Monasteries to avoid problems of too many visitors, disrupting monastery activities), involving local monastery leadership in tourism management
– Plan visitor infrastructure around to avoid trampling grasslands and delicate forest floor
– Asses impact of infrastructure (signage, roads and parking, buildings, factories) on ecotourism activities
– Develop revenue generation from tourism, besides entrance fees
– Education of tourists, develop a code of conduct for visitors and merchants, sensitize through literature and guides (e.g. on cultural habits, eco-tourism practices)

b. Community involvement, small business development
– Broad consultation: inform communities from the start, apply participatory planning techniques,
– Create co-management structures, resolve conflicts between wildlife and agricultural use (e.g. monkey, wolf), e.g. policies for compensation on damage caused by wildlife
– Create demonstration projects (co-management, ecotourism services,
– Integrate communities’ traditional nature reserves in the park
– Support the creation of community conservation associations (local NGOs) to tackle challenges in an organized manner, to make their voice heard (e.g. Napa wetland community association)
– Develop revenue sharing mechanisms (within and between communities), e.g. around Napa wetland to avoid that all benefits are received in northern area (e.g. community fund)
– Develop businesses for food and accommodation (home-stay) in remote communities, cultural performances, coordinate with tour operators
– Protection and promotion of authentic local handicraft and products (production and sale), use the Shangri-La brand for local products, control origin and quality
– Develop organic farming and market products through tourism
– Promote the use of local cuisine in restaurants, guest houses, hotels, local sourcing of produce (policies in companies, enterprises), reduce the use of imported products
– Create a framework for financial support (e.g. grant schemes, prize, micro-credits)

c. Tourism products development (activities, services, infrastructure)
– Establish signage, and designate zones for tourism use (regulations)
– Draft a regional tourism development plan (considering broader tourism infrastructure and linking attractions, e.g. Shangri-La and Lijiang old town)
– Product diversification (e.g. specific sport activities, observation of flora and fauna)
– Improve airport and accessibility

Develop cultural tourism:
o Promote low-volume, high quality community-based tourism
o Study tours for students to learn and experience Tibetan culture
o Promote authentic traditional buildings
o Organize festivals
o Cultural exhibition center in the new area of Shangri-La, Shangri-La theater, handicrafts market or street in old town, museum on ethnic minorities in old town, community meeting center (e.g. a park with a stupa). Make sure to build them with culturally sensitive design, using traditional style
– Tourist information (maps, publications on history, wildlife, geography, culture, on different languages)
– Develop site specific management plans, e.g. congestion management in heavily visited sites, distribute tourists (coordinate with travel agencies), specific visitors infrastructure
– Inside protected areas, access (path, gondola, horses, etc.) needs to be environmentally and culturally sensitive. Be careful to avoid overflow of private vehicle.
– Regulation of tourism operations:
– Define licensing policies and rules for specialized tour operators, like small scale ecotourism operation. Promote low volume and quality tourism.
– Incorporate environmental and socio-cultural criteria in licensing tour operators, especially for the National Park and reserve area
o Create minimum standards and quality requirements for home-stays and guides (e.g. comfort, hygiene, language ability)

d. Marketing, promotion
– Develop marketing strategy, integrate in marketing of Three Parallel Rivers Region / Northwestern Yunnan / Southwestern Sichuan
– Key elements are: quality, authenticity and safety
– Create policy for the consistency on the use of names (different names, local and Chinese can create confusion), respect and use local names that have special meaning, it gives colour and originality
– Give names for specific trails, sub-areas
– Create a brand and image on Shangri-La (logo, slogan, consistency of tourism promotional material, control of the use of brand)
– Involve celebrities, and political figures in promotion

e. Coordination, institutional structure
– Obtain support/ engagement of international organizations and Conservation Organisations (NGOs), and of higher levels of Government
– Work on coordination with Yunnan Province policies
– Obtain funding, subsidies from central and provincial level
-Draw attention of central government, integrate Shangri-La plan in national policy and planning frameworks
– Involve tourism private sector in institutional development
-Differentiate and develop different infrastructures for mass tourism, for low-volume high-value / ecotourism
– Define sustainability indicators, as basic tools for tourism planning, manage-ment and monitoring
– Continuously monitor tourism development and impact.

f. Assistance needs (technical, financial, training)
– Training on specific activities: bird watching, horse riding, safety
-Awareness raising and training of government officials (different levels, top officials, middle managers), study tours to experience tourism management in other parks, technical training
-Role of International Organisations and local NGOs to facilitate training
– Incorporate biodiversity and sustainability issues in school curricula
– Training on handicraft production
– Guiding, interpretation, develop training materials, use “train the trainers” approach
– Educate the wider public (e.g. driving habits- safety issues) by means of media.

2. Land-use planning
The participants in this group included representatives of Policy Research Centre of Yunnan Provincial Government, Diqing Planning and Forestry Departments, Southwest Forestry University and foreign private investors. After extensive discussions, the group proposed to focus on the following core recommendations:

g. Move quickly on the establishment of a scientific Land-use / Zoning Plan for the entire Prefecture, defining not only the land set aside for the National Park, but also the areas with other purposes / land-use in the Prefecture, such as mining, animal husbandry, water conservancy, tourism, cultural/religious sensitive sites, town expansion, etc. Include maps with clear delimitation of land use areas and also the regulations regarding the usage of those areas. Publish the Prefecture Land Use Plan and its regulations. This is crucially important for investors. Besides, the area around a national park and leading into and out of it will impact the park itself. So this recommendation precedes discussion about a National Park and encompasses the whole Prefecture.

h. Entrust a Prefecture Government Unit with the responsibility to get the Prefecture Land Use Plan done, to publicize the Plan, and to monitor ongoing compliance with the Plan. It was suggested that some of these tasks could be entrusted to the Diqing Forestry Bureau (since this institution is in charge of most undeveloped land in the Prefecture), possibly under mandate by the Prefecture Land Bureau. Overall responsibility for monitoring execution of this priority task should be at the highest level in the Prefecture Government.

i. For any significant infrastructure project in the Prefecture, consider environmental, social and economic impact assessment studies as a crucial investment in knowledge, which will allows good planning, informed decision-making and reduction of costly mistakes. It is important to entrust the best researchers with these studies and then to broadly share the results with stakeholders and the public. This will offer a level playing field to all, decrease the risks of ignoring some stakeholders’ vital interests, which might create bigger problems in the future. From experience abroad, the communication and discussion of impact assessment is highly recommended.

j. Move forward and officially propose the establishment of Shangri-La National Park in the areas considered for this purpose, which include mountain, grassland/lake, and gorge ecosystems. Start implementation on Bita/Shudu lakes and grassland area, as a demonstration to the local community and government as to what the National Park effort will entail. Start experiments with eco-tourism schemes.

k. Create an on-going quarterly meeting to share information, monitor progress and coordinate work between all active stakeholders (business, Province and Prefecture Government, experts, conservation organisations).

l. Implement a pro-active campaign to share information with and gain support from the township and villages that will be impacted by the establishment of a National Park. Create a corresponding unit in the Prefecture Government that will be entrusted with the implementation of this task, possibly with funding and maybe other support from NGOs. Participants

Participants of the workshop included among others Mr. Tong Zhiyun, Deputy Director of Yunnan Province Policy Research Center, and Diqing Prefecture delegation headed by Vice Governor Shi Zongkai. Representatives of international investors in Diqing were also among active participants. Chinese academics were well represented with senior planning and tourism scholars from Tsinghua University and Southwest Forestry University. International Environmental organisations such as WWF and The Nature Conservancy also participated, as did local eco-tourism business people.

Meili Snow Mountain, Kawagebo Peak
(Source: Prof. Yang Rui presentation)

Many thanks to Gerard Burgermeister, who compiled the original report , and the team of highly qualified experts in national park planning and eco-tourism who participated in the workshop.