Recently I was part of a study tour to Nepal, with the purpose of gaining key insights from the tour industry so that lessons learned could be applied to the Qinghai context. As a volunteer with Plateau Perspectives, a Canadian based non-profit organization working in Qinghai, we have been working with a number of rural communities to establish an ecotourism network, with the purpose of poverty alleviation. And key to this is not only the establishment of tourism, but responsible tourism that promotes livelihood needs, conservation efforts and environmental protection. Nepal has a large history of tourism, not all good, but we wanted to see firsthand what some of the positive and negative effects of the industry were, specifically looking at the local community context.
Our study tour team was made up of invitees from academia, private sector, local NGO’s, as well as government staff. It was our hope that such a tour would serve as a foundation for further discussion and partnership in Qinghai. In our tour we visited a range of establishments from high-end to budget tourist destinations and met with key organizations in Nepal responsible for the industry including WWF, SNV, Nepal Tourism Board, the Department of National Parks & Wildlife, and ICIMOD. Key to many of our discussions was how communities were involved in planning. Do communities have the capacity for management? If not, how are they being trained? As a key stakeholder, what decision-making power do they have? How do they access the benefits of tourism, which largely depends on land/resources they use to meet basic livelihood needs? How are they involved in conservation efforts? Are their opportunities for co-management in conservation areas/national parks?
Overall, I feel the tour was very successful. We gained much insight to the tourism planning process and I believe we will learn greatly from the successes and failures of Nepal. However, in our western China context, we are only a small voice that influences policy and regulations surrounding this industry. It is our hope that the communities we work with will be a shining example of successful tourism that improves local livelihoods and environmental protection. As such an example, it may help promote responsible tourism in other regions.