Testing the waters of Chinese ecotourism

People in small boats rafting in China
Rafting in China

A Griffith-led research study into Chinese ecotourism has exposed a lack of understanding by Australian operators with regard to what visitors from this region are expecting on a holiday down under.

Project leader, Professor Ralf Buckley, International Chair in Ecotourism Research at Griffith University said to better understand the expectations of outbound tourists the researchers had focused on one outdoor recreational activity which is popular in China.

Rafting in China

“With the help of a Chinese‑speaking colleague from the USA, and three colleagues from within China, we set out specifically to study the Chinese domestic rafting industry, known as piaoliu. We were quite surprised to find that this activity is completely different from what takes place in Australia,” Professor Buckley said.

“As many as 10,000 patrons per day, at the most popular sites, sit in small oval rafts which are flushed down short sections of river, modified heavily through engineering works.

“These tourists have no paddles and no control. If they fall out they are rescued by lifeguards stationed along the banks.

“In many ways, this activity is less like an active adventure sport, and more like a fairground ride.

“What they get when they come to Australia are larger rivers, more powerful rapids, and much more active involvement with a greater personal responsibility for safety. Unless Australian raft tour operators appreciate this, and adjust their trip briefings and safety procedures accordingly, urban Chinese outbound tourists will be at severe risk.”

Tourism growth from China

“For the past decade, the Australian tourism industry has braced itself for an influx of package tourists from China but in practice, this has happened more gradually than projected,” Professor Buckley said.

“Individual wealth in China has increased enormously, but government controls on overseas travel have relaxed much more slowly. In some ways this was lucky, because we really weren’t ready for them.

“Australian rural destinations are not at all equipped to handle high volumes of tourists who speak Chinese only, expect to be able to eat Chinese food, and are unfamiliar with Australian cultural behaviour.

“The study has identified that there is a giant pool of potential clients for Australian adventure tours.

“For national tourism marketing agencies, that is a very favourable finding.”

The results of this study have been published in Tourism Management .