Evolution of tourism in a flagship protected area of China
Nature-based tourism in protected areas, which is growing worldwide, offers much potential to enhance biodiversity conservation, poverty alleviation, and ultimately sustainable development. Understanding the evolution of protected areas as tourism destinations and the causes and consequences of changing supply and demand elements is an essential step toward sustainably managing tourism in these critical ecosystems. This research applied the Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC) model to illustrate and analyze the 30-year evolution of tourism in Wolong Nature Reserve. Being inscribed in UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage programmes, Wolong is a flagship protected area in China. We showed that the Reserve experienced exploration, involvement, and development stages of the TALC before tourism growth was completely halted by the Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008. We systematically investigated the changes related to the evolution of tourism and identified various internal and external driving forces. We examined the dynamics of politics, economy, and tourism growth that might propel the Reserve through the life cycle and identified significant tourism governance structural changes through the stages. The results have implications for sustainable tourism development in China's protected areas and also contribute to a broader and general understanding of the complex relationships between protected areas, sustainable tourism, and community development.
KEYWORDS: sustainable tourism; conservation; protected area; tourism area life cycle; tourism governance; coupled human and natural systems