Eco-tourism stifled in Hong Kong

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    This thread discusses the Content article: Eco-tourism stifled in Hong Kong AFP story on messy state of HK eco-tourism:[sadly, no longer found]  (Omits mention of daft regulations – maybe too complex; first para not quite right; but perhaps the article’s food for thought. Though Tourism Board [anonymous] spokeswoman’s comments suggest that there’s desire to just say there’s no problem, despite evidence to contrary.) 


    Dear Martin,

    Please don’t be discouraged withthe eco-tourism business. I will be looking for people who can operate eco-tourism from a number of locations in Saikung and Taipo, hopefully soon. My principals own the land and should qualify if need to get a Travel Agent Lic. Sustainable Development for Conservation as well as Sustainable Tourism have been adopted underlying values of the projects. I am trying to turn green and hope to turn developers green too, so to speak. We have conceived sustainable development concepts and are conducting eco-surveys on some sites. The project are a bit raw at this stage for stakeholder consultation because we are still trying to get it right. We have approached the Tourism Commission to indicate our interest and resources. So far, they have given polite acknowledgement. When they ae ready, I foresee easier development of eco-tourism which would be in a comprehensive manner.



    Hi Keen:

    I very much hope you prove correct, and that we do see some good eco-tourism development in Tai Po/Sai Kung: could be great, and perhaps an example to others.

    But we’ve seen some rather dodgy projects proposed/implemented, with degree of “greenwashing”: a six-storey hotel was planned for Tai Long Wan (I talked with architect who said it would be environmentally sound, and got very unhappy when I told him no way; thankfully, hotel not built [yet); then at Sham Chung, seen a supposed organic farm for underprivileged kids (or something like this), which to me seemed little used if at all, even tho had plaque suggesting support from some s China biologists; this “farm” is now about abandoned beside land trashed for golf course that wasn’t used.



    It is important that land owners and villagers who try to embrace Sustainable Development and Eco-cultural Tourism are helped by bodies like the STTF with explanation of concerns and good ideas and support for what could be done and feasible, rather than scared away by sheer militancy and emotive knee-jerk oppositions.

    Afterall, villagers and land owners have much more at stake since they impinge on their own sustainability as a community, family unit or corporation. There is some justification to view their stakes as being more significant than “transients” who are also significant but less so for bra, bra bra… Surely, one must avoid displaying arrogance of what may resemble colonist of past era who prescribed what would be best for their native subjects base on their own mindsets, preferring to see natives poor, backward and cute for tourism.

    To me eco-cultural tourism done right is a good response to Sustainable Development for Conservation. It provides the economic benefits for the stakeholders as well as funds for sustainable conservation. I wish STTF would talk more about developing tourism than to just to fight for turf-control.

    For example, with respect to this Superprison, was there any eco-tourism in place or in plan? I am not awareof any interest expressed regarding the leprosy mission and later drug rehabilitation centre located therein before. As the Sustainable Tourism Task Force, do we have any eco-tourism plan to suggest other than just to object?! The lesson is to have eco-tourism plans in place to give economic value to different locations rather than to neglect them and gear to fight once anyone trying to make something out of them. I embrace the spirit of public-private participation wherein NGOs are involved with development of sensitive sites. I beleive the STTF should work with land owners and villagers to attain Sustainable Development of eco-cultural tourism. The task of developing eco-tourism and implementing effective conservation measures are so costly that developers need help too! From a business point of view, why would anyone want to pay dearly to create and maintain destination experience when they can capitalise on the scenic and natural assets on-location which are god-given. It makes buisness sense to conserve, sustain and capitalise on them. Conservation and development should not be conflicting. It could be the stakeholders who are fighting turf battles.

    Don’t get me wrong; I am not in favour of the Super-prison located at Heilingchau; I would put it on the island of Chek Lap Kok airport where there is plenty of industrial land looking for someone to use, and staff can travel by MTR to work. I just wish thoise who care could be more proactive.



      I don’t believe land owners and villagers who really try to "embrace Sustainable Development and Eco-cultural Tourism" will be scared away; nor that there is sheer militancy and emotive knee-jerk opposition. Indeed, if they really try to embrace such priniciples, they will be welcomed by all who care about Hong Kong’s environment. – If you have evidence to the contrary, please share it with us. You err, too, in offhand dismissal of colonist past. This is far too simplistic a view; notions that there was any prevailing view preference here "to see natives poor, backward and cute for tourism" are preposterous. (Or, again, do you have evidence of this?) – I’ve seen many local people who I would love to see earn more money from tourism, both from Hong Kong people and from overseas tourists. I too would like to see more discussion of developing tourism. You have written of plans; what are these, maybe we can discuss – could be great for the STTF (Sustainable Tourism Taskforce, to anyone reading who doesn’t know) conference. If you, too, are open to discussion. The Superprison will impact tourism to the western islands, including Cheung Chau, where I live. The Living Islands Movement, main advocate against the prison plans, is indeed recommending Community Based Tourism – as you heard Eric Spain mention yesterday, and as you can read in an article by Jonathan and Eric elsewhere on this site. (Hmm, maybe some problem in accessing this and other articles; hope that’s temporary as otherwise not sure how to fix it!!) 


        Hi Martin,

        Any update on your Eco-tourism article? An excellent read.

        Do your (disturbing) findings still apply 12 months down the road? :unsure:

        Or have we a long road to go yet?

        Best regards,
        Hong Kong


        Hi Richard:

        Sadly, zero change that I’m aware of.

        Lately sent out email to various people, inc Travel Industry Council, bemoaning regulations I think could fossilise travel industry here (as small players will be discouraged; tougher to open business that may be risky, so I suspect will just see companies play it safe, mostly with same old same old).

        Email in reply from TIC, w figures showing nos travel agents stable, maybe up a little; and getting newcomers. But, figures say nothing re how many of these newbies are interesting companies, set to offer novel travel products (and how many are geared towards taking mainland tourists to the Peak, Bauhinia Square [haha], gold shops and factory outlets).

        Maybe HK Tourism Board shifting a little towards more promotion of greener side of HK; but I haven’t noticed this really impacting HK image promotions (to outside world – and much of HK – this is little but a city with shopping and dining).
        Against which, Lantau plans show govt has near zip notions re sustainable development, seems to imagine that can have lots of concrete and eco-tourism too (are eco-tourists such blind fools I wonder?)

        Anyway, gotta keep on giving it a go; away from bureaucracies (and even within, in a few cases), are people trying for more diverse tourism here – and HK certainly has the natural setting to support this.



          Not having the intimate experience that I’ve had in the last 3 months with eco-tourism in Hong Kong, I think I’m hearing more “lip service” paid by government officials about “sustainable development” and eco-tourism or community-based tourism.

          Selina Chow, in her role as Chairman of the Tourism Board, stated on an ATV show on eco-tourism a few months ago, that she would work with grassroots groups promoting eco-tourism and community-based tourism.

          Getting substantive action though as a result of said promises has not been swift or sure. Some action but without concrete results to show for it, does it count as substantive?


            Hi Martin,

            Would like to let you know here there are many people here in HK that are keen to explore the wild, but can hardly get access to the type of tours you mentioned about.

            It is tough and ridiculous to see what you are getting thru. A few suggestions / ideas (maybe you have tried before):
            – start with organising eco-tour for organisations (voluntary agency, churches, etc.). I do see these organisations run tours (but usually to field trips that everyone know how to go on their own) but do not have a “travel agency” behind.
            – schools – kids nowadays are more familiar with their PSP than the countryside, there’s a real need in the community for this


            Hi Sally:

            Thanks for the message.

            I do a v few tours of the kind you mention; may soon take YMCA “summer camp” on birds and wildllife outing.
            For some of voluntary organisations, maybe not always “up” for paid tours.

            But, some people work on these.

            For myself, I’m happy to do occasional tours; mainly want to try promoting this kind of tourism thro words, pictures – including on this website, Explore Wild Hong Kong! video (which, now the sun’s back, we can start filming again).
            But even doing occasional tours not so easy, as explained; and for those trying full-time, official attitudes remain pretty discouraging.

            I’m in something called Sustainable Tourism Taskforce, set up under Business Environment Council. Mostly just a talking shop. Couple of related emails copied below.

            First, thro STTF, BEC Chief Exec Officer has joined something govt establshed: Tourism Strategy Group, with bigwigs inc Tourism Commission (the value of which is… ??). He mentioned this at STTF meeting, and I asked if he could raise issue of Specialised Tour Guide Licences, as Singapore – which as name suggests could make it far easier for people to guide tours re their specialities.

            I raised this issue this morning at the Tourism Strategy Group meeting. Eva Cheng explained difficulties with the ordinance and legal aspects, but
            pleadged that they would again look into what can be done. I asked how this
            could be kept alive until such a time as an acceptable outcome is attained.
            Broadly the answer seems to be by continuing to raise this issue at the
            Strategy Group wrt progress.

            Not an inspirational update I know, but it is once again on their agenda.

            Not just uninspirational; pathetic I say. (Eva Cheng is Commissioner for Tourism.)

            Then, an email I circulated to STTF members:

            Last week, at the height of the rains (!), I went to hotel on Cheung
            Chau to talk with a travel journalist working for a French internet mag. Late writing about this; reminded as doing something re Lantau. Emailing round sttf about this, as her comments perhaps revealing re promotions of HK to tourists – which in turn impacts the kind of tourism we have here.

            Her trip was organised thro hktb, chiefly to promote some shopping event. Before heading to hk, she decided it would be good to do additional stories on other aspects of HK. She told tb (in France) she would like to stay on an outlying island; was told they don’t have accommodation. Found info – inc on my outdoors site – re Cheung Chau, which has hotel.
            Told that could only stay there on weekends.
            Weekends not good for schedule; she was then able to stay on a weeknight (haha – just as monster rains on way! – too bad that after all this she couldn’t walk around Cheung Chau); tb had worried that on weekday CC might seem too quiet, which was what she wanted anyway

            On arrival in HK, she’d been taken to Pacific Place and Landmark – finding shops much as in France, goods more expensive.

            While such promotions, with emphasis on shopping etc, remain the norm
            (and, it seems, pervade mindset of many people promoting hk tourism), I
            think it’s tougher attracting people to enjoy much of HK.
            Oh, yes, one lingering question I have: why is Selina Chow in charge of
            much tourism here?

            Wouldn’t be quite so sad if HKTB still structured as before, an association funded by members (most of which are big tourism related companies). Now, though, seems it’s more of a quango – given some HK$100 million per year as I recall.

            This, too, seems to me related to HKTB’s naff statements re not supporting dai pai dong for being unhygenic.
            Hmm, the last noodle place I remember having problem for food poisoning was, err, in Langham Place.


            Item on Xinhuanet says that, though tourism accounts for only 7% of “the local output”, it’s main driver of economy:
            Tourism Drives Hong Kong Economy

            Of course, could be an even better economic driver if had “eco-tourism” (or sustainable tourism), as then far more of the money would actually be of greater benefit within HK – rather than substantially being used to buy stuff from overseas, like the goods people buy on shopping sprees here.


            email I’ve just circulated to members of HK Coalition on Sustainable Tourism, replying to quick flurry of emails after Paul Zimmerman reported on meeting w Travel Industry Council (TIC):

            ” The issue of “specialized tour guide” has yet to be formally discussed at the TIC.”
            – this shows the TIC has near zero interest in sustainable tourism of “ecotourism” (in very broad sense, ie inc culture, nature)

            This, perhaps, is as things should be – TIC is focused on mass market (yes, very retro).

            But helps show that tourism structure here is not at all suited to developing sustainable tourism, of ecotourism sort (with aims of benefiting local environment, communities).

            For local tours, impetus should perhaps come from consumers. While people are happy with crap “ecotours” (to Tung Ping Chau, Deep Bay etc), that’s what they’ll continue getting. Education a big part of it; seems to me local “ecotours” still novel here, so maybe people figure it ok to go in big group led by some folk who occasionally speak thro megaphones.
            May be scope here for, say, trying for media articles on what makes for a half-decent ecotour, and for a crap tour. (decent tours inc not grabbing lots of animals in rock pools, as I’m concerned may happen Tung Ping Chau)
            Did see a guy quoted in paper as saying a Hoi Ha trip was useless; so there’s scope for creating change here.

            Market forces important
            – though I know this isn’t thought true by many in Hong Kong today, but anyway

            Tour companies not essential for ecotourism. People can go by selves; witness the many thousands of Hongkongers heading to countryside each weekend and public holiday. With decent info, even some overseas visitors can go by selves. People interested in ecotourism rather more likely to be independent minded; indeed may prefer to hike, visit villages and temples etc at own pace.
            HK facilities are good to superb by comparison with many places – think of superb facilities in country parks, inc the trail system. (what other city – anywhere – can rival this?). But companies can play important roles, esp for less independently-minded people.

            Promotion important. I believe one reason hiking now popular w Japanese groups is promotion to Japanese market. Then, people have visited, hiked, enjoyed it and passed on info – also v important, esp for tourism of this kind (without huge advertising dollars, word of mouth esp important).

            Glad Paul met TIC.

            When had FirstStep Nature Tours, we joined TIC (as seemed only way could continue getting some promotion thro HKTB).
            All we got from TIC/members were a bag and an infinite number of junk emails.

            As part of joining, we joined HATA. For this, got lobbied for vote in TIC election (duly voted, Paul Leung won, but since done nothing for sustainable tourism – and why should he, he’s mass market guy?); had cheap trip to Thailand for conference w some uninteresting talks, albeit met one or two contacts.

            Again – shows that travel structure here no use for good ecotourism development here (and ecotourism isn’t just a “narrow range of interests” – spans a broad spectrum, much of what we discuss re sustainable tourism).

            These points not new.
            We talk but don’t progress.


            Today, picked up leaflet on tourism – Quintessence of Hong Kong Nature.

            "Hooray!" – you might shout. "Our efforts on sustainable tourism haven’t been completely and utterly ignored by the powers that be in the tourism industry – there is hope."

            Steady on now; don’t rush out for the champagne.

            The leaflet promotes Ocean Park, the Wetland Park, and Ngong Ping 360.

            And I thought our tourism industry was opposed to fakes and bogus promotions?

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