China-Australia Dialogue on Marine Ecotourism

Professor Buckley ( far left) at the China-Australia Dialogue on Marine Ecotourism
Professor Buckley ( far left) at the China-Australia Dialogue on Marine Ecotourism

by Professor Ralf Buckley, Director of Griffith’sInternational Centre for Ecotourism Research.

In China, this is the Year of Marine Ecotourism.

Just south of Shanghai lies Ningbo, the world’s fourth largest port, major destination for Australia’s iron ore exports. And just south of Ningbo is the coastal town and offshore islands of Ninghai.

In the Ming Dynasty, Ninghai was famous as the starting point for a thirty-year journey around China by geographer and explorer Xu Xiake. More recently, it became well-known for its fisheries and seafood, and for ocean front residences and yachting opportunities, in China’s second wealthiest county. Currently, it is offering a portfolio of some USD 30 billion in coastal and island tourist investment opportunities, principally to domestic investors.

To celebrate National Tourism Day on 19 May, the national, provincial and local tourism authorities invited a delegation from Australia to provide technical advice on development of marine ecotourism. The delegation included: Mr Martin Ferguson, until recently the Australian Minister for Tourism; leaders of the Australian Tourism Export Council, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and the Australia-China Club; and CEO’s of three well-known Australian ecotourism enterprises. And, as Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research at Griffith University, I was also invited asthe chief technical expert.

Global impact of marine tourism and ecotourism

The meeting was held as a one-day round-table discussion, and I was asked to set the scene with global statistics on marine tourism and ecotourism, recent trends within China and Australia, opportunities and constraints for Ninghai, and a review of relevant expertise within Australia. The Australian ecotourism CEOs followed up by presenting their own experiences.

On 20 May, a $30 billion portfolio of coastal and island tourist investment opportunities were presented. At least 7 of these were signed up on the spot, including a $3 billion development at Sanmen Bay, by Australian contractors.

China now has 2.9 billion domestic tourists each year, and more than 100 million Chinese move from low to middle income brackets annually. Whilst packaged coach tours are still commonplace, there is now a widespread self-drive market, and a strong enthusiasm for outdoor activities. One of the key drivers is the desire of urban residents to seek clean air in the countryside for at least a few weeks each year. China now also has a large number of millionaires and billionaires, and its economy is switching rapidly from manufacturing to service-dominated. As part of this transition, the domestic tourism and leisure market is expanding at a globally unprecedented rate, with growth in nature and adventure tourism, and the construction of up-market facilities such as private yacht clubs and coastal resorts.

Tourism research

Griffith University is fortunate to have many Chinese staff and students in both tourism and environmental science, and a number of cooperative research projects in China.

Griffith University hosts the Tourism Confucius Institute, whose Deputy Director Dr Ding Pei-yi also holds an appointment in the Griffith Business School. I am also fortunate to have a large-scale program with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and several universities and parks agencies, examining visitor and conservation management at over a thousand parks nationwide.

With colleagues at Griffith and elsewhere, I study the motivations and experiences of Chinese domestic adventure tourists, since these influence their expectations when they visit Australia.