Community Ecotourism on the Tibetan Plateau

Marc Foggin, 2012

Over the past several months, many of our team members have been engaged in advancing our
community ecotourism project, which aims to support communities’ economic development in
one of the largest nature reserves in the world. Simultaneously, local people are involved in the
conservation of the grassland ecosystems and of rare and endangered wildlife species.

But why have we chosen to be involved with ‘ecotourism’ in the first place? In short, following
the earthquake that devastated the Yushu area in April 2010, we initially assisted with disaster
relief including medical work and the provision of basic supplies. However after several months
we agreed with local colleagues, friends and government authorities on a longer-term response,
which includes two main elements: the development of rehabilitation services in Yushu Tibetan
Autonomous Prefecture, and livelihood recovery with creation of new opportunities, particularly
in the developing tourism sector.

Recently we asked our 9 year old son, Alistair, how he would describe community ecotourism.
As part of a school assignment, he wrote: “Community ecotourism is tourism which protects the
environment and helps the local people. Ecotourism is good for getting money to give it to the
locals, protecting the environment and saving the wildlife. It is also good for protecting the
endangered species such as: Wild yak, Snow leopard and Lynx. I think it would be fun to teach
the tourists how to ride horses at the horse races and show them the wildlife on the grasslands. It
would also be fun to teach the tourists how to herd yak with slingshots and to raft down rivers. It
would help the environment to burn trash and recycle what can be recycled.” We believe he has
captured the essence of what may be achieved by ecotourism, if it is done properly!

Toward this end, our project is now working at several levels simultaneously. At a grassroots
level we are assisting several communities to develop their experiential ‘tourism products’ and
their marketing plans. We also are supporting the development of rural financing mechanisms in
the form of herders’ cooperatives and community trust funds. With several partners at provincial
level, we equally are aiming to see the launch of a Qinghai Ecotourism Network before the end
of the year; and to assist in this we are currently planning a study tour to Nepal that is focused on
community-oriented tourism – in particular to promote a mindset of ‘tourism for development’
and ‘tourism for conservation’. Finally, at a policy level we also are directly contributing to a
new approach for conservation in China known as community co-management, in which local
communities are recognized as partners, not enemies, of conservation and regional development.
We believe that adopting such an integrated approach to community development – integrating
local livelihoods and economics with biodiversity conservation, local participation and equity –
is a significant, practical way in which we can serve our global neighbours and steward creation.