Hong Kong Style Eco-tourism

Today's South China Morning Post has an article on coral tour boats at Hoi Ha - prompting comment from me about Hong Kong "eco-tours".

A reporter went out on a so-called "eco-tour" - which proved to be a 10-minute coral-viewing trip, with "no introduction or explanation of what we saw." This hardly seems atypical in Hong Kong - where "eco-tourism" has become a highly misused buzz word, sometimes having about as much to do with real eco-tourism as my piano playing has to do with classical music. (I can't even play Chopsticks.)

Hong Kong style eco-tourism: sardine tours with megaphones

By my reckoning, eco-tourism should involve getting close to nature, learning something as well as making some contribution, with the ethos, take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

Yet it rather seems that, especially now Hong Kongers are keener on getting out in the country post-SARS (and it's good they want to get out), there's a slew of "eco-tours" with little semblance to eco-tours in various other parts of the world.

I've seen coachloads of people being led through Mai Po without being shown much of - or even blithely ignoring - the birdlife; other coachloads simply dropped off at nearby Tsim Bei Tsui, and apparently left to wander around as they wish - no one pointing out birds etc for them, explaining things.

Such Sardine Tours (oops, sorry, eco-tours) also run to other places - boatloads of people tour around Tung Ping Chau, again with little or no help from guides. Even if their guides wanted to show off wildlife, they have little chance to do so as there are so many punters, so few guides, who may use megaphones to tell their hordes where to go, when to get back on the ferry. And at Ping Chau, the tours are reportedly damaging, as people collect too many starfish and other creatures from rock pools, which are becoming depleted.

Even the Hong Kong Government has adopted the "eco-tourism" buzz word, with claims in the plan for 2030 that the government is promoting eco-tourism (hoho, nice one). And the Wetland Park that's under construction within Deep Bay is billed as an eco-tourism project: even though it's an artificial habitat, that will have mostly captive birds, and displays that will be heavily dependent on virtual reality and other fancy stuff that fully suits theme parks - but eco-tourism?

Hopefully, this sloppiness with "eco-tourism" results from this being new to Hong Kong; in time, perhaps, people will learn what true eco-tourism involves, and will expect and demand more from their tours. People on the tours should benefit; so too, I hope, Hong Kong's wildlife and environment.

DocMartin

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