Ecotourism in Hong Kong : its current status and
Author(s)Kwok, Fun-ki; 郭芬琪
Issue Date 2000
The IVth World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas, suggested that
“protected areas must be managed so that local communities, the nations involved,
and the world community all benefit” (World Congress on National Parks and
Protected Areas (4th: 1992: Caracas, Venezuela) 1993). It indicates that there should
be a shift away from a definite preservationist position towards a human-needs
It reveals a fundamental conflict between preservation and consumption of
natural resources. The question is: how to make use of the nature resources wisely for
the sustainable development in environmental, social and economic aspects?
Ecotourism may be an option because of its special characteristics: a strong
commitment for conservation of nature.
Ecotourism, meanwhile booming around the world, involved some 20% of
international tourists in 1997 (World Tourism Organization (WTO) 1998, cited in
Dowling 1999). Most observers concluded that it has been growing faster than
tourism generally during the past few years (Lindberg et al. 1997).
Ecotourism provides a linkage between two unlikely related issues together:
tourism and conservation. It becomes a debatable issue between tourism industry and
conservationists. Tourism industry emphasizes on the pros of ecotourism as a means
to maximize their profits while conservationists concern about the adverse impacts on
environment but also expect to use ecotourism as a tool for conservation. Are ecology
and tourism definitely in conflicts? Successful cases of ecotourism to be beneficial to
both the nature and human are there. On the other hand, negative impacts of
ecotourism on environment are well documented worldwide. Ecotourism may
however be merely a word.
Though ecotourism has been presented in Hong Kong for many years, the
experience in the territory remains limited. Ecotourism is now of considerable interest
to many sectors in Hong Kong. Its potential to expand market for the products is
attractive to the Government agencies. Recently a lot of effort and emphasis are put
on the publicity of ecotourism in Hong Kong. Some tourism projects related to nature
were proposed including wetland park (Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA)
1998), ecological parks (South China Morning Post (SCMP) 2000a; HKTA 1999a)
and resort development in outlying islands (Oriental Daily 1999). It is the high time to
consider the issues on ecotourism in Hong Kong.
The influx of tourists to the preserved areas would damage the natural
environment and unavoidably put additional pressure on the countryside. To minimize
the adverse effects brought by tourists, and to sustain ecotourism, with reference to
the case in Hong Kong, this study attempts to seek for some ideas on the planning and
management of ecotourism, and to consider if ecotourism can be a promising tool for
conservation in Hong Kong.
To understand the nature of ecotourism and provide a definition of it for the
purposes of this dissertation.
To overview the current status of tourism and the promotion and development of
ecotourism in Hong Kong.
To study some of ecotourist activities in Hong Kong.
To analyze the possible issues and constraints on developing ecotourism in Hong
To formulate recommendations on planning and management for sustainable
development of ecotourism in Hong Kong.
To discuss whether or not ecotourism can be a promising tool for conservation in
1.3 Methodology of the Study
In order to achieve the objectives, a methodology consisting of two main stages
is adopted. The first stage is the collection of information and the second part is
analysis and applications.
Essential information is collected for defining the objectives and for developing
the criteria in planning and management of ecotourism. Review of relevant literature,
government statistics and reports, personal communications with different
government departments, environmental non-government organizations (NGOs),
ecotour companies, ecotour operators and other relevant organizations form the main
sources of data. The author also participated in ecotours. An overview of the overseas
experience on operating ecotourism provides some insights for understanding the
impacts of ecotourism on environment. It also gives information of planning and
management of ecotourism which some of them are applicable in Hong Kong.
The inputs and information collected are sorted and organized to understand the
current status of tourism and ecotourism in Hong Kong and also assess the issues and
constraints of developing ecotourism in Hong Kong.
A set of planning and management strategies is recommended to the
development of ecotourism in Hong Kong. It is hoped that these will help the
decision-makers, planners or managers in future planning and management of
ecotourism to maintain a balance between tourism demand and conservation of
Finally, with the special characteristics of ecotourism, consider the role of it to
see if it can be a promising tool for conservation in Hong Kong.
1.4 Scope of the study
Divided in seven chapters, Chapter 2 of the dissertation illustrates the
fundamental characteristics of ecotourism, the current status of global tourism and
ecotourism, and the economic estimation of global ecotourism market. Chapter 3
provides an overview of the current status of tourism and ecotourism in Hong Kong.
Only inbound ecotourism is focused in this dissertation. Ecotourism programmes are
introduced in Chapter 4 to give a description of the present state of ecotourism
operation in Hong Kong.
In Chapter 5, based on the situation of Hong Kong, some possible issues and
constraints to the development of ecotourism are analyzed. Suggestions are also given
to enhance the situation. While Chapter 6 concerns about the planning and
management of ecotourism for the sustainability of environment and tourism. The
author’s main concern is on the environmental sustainability of ecotourism. The study
then ends with conclusion in Chapter 7 to consider if ecotourism can be a tool for
conservation in Hong Kong.
In attempt to assist the readers further, a list of references is available at the end
of the chapters. Tables and appendices are also included for illustration and reference.
1.5 Definition of terms
Inbound tourism means “involving non-residents travelling in the given country”
There is no standard definition of ecotourism. For the purposes of this
dissertation, ecotourism is defined as responsible travel for experiencing of and
learning about the nature and it should be managed in a sustainable path and
contributed to the conservation of nature.
What is ecotourism?
What is ecotourism?
In this chapter, firstly, an overview of current status and forecast of global
tourism is given. Reasons for the development of ecotourism are discussed. After that,
fundamental concepts of ecotourism are introduced. These include the concepts of
mass and alternative tourism, and the differences between nature tourism and
ecotourism. Various existing definitions of ecotourism and their common features are
reviewed. Since there is no standard definition of ecotourism, its meaning and
philosophy will be discussed. The author then defines ecotourism for the purposes of
this dissertation. Finally, the global ecotourism market is estimated by reviewing
2.1 Growth of global tourism
Tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing industries. It grew by 260%
between 1970 and 1990. According to preliminary results released by the World
Tourism Organization (WTO) (2000), in 1999, international tourist arrivals reached
657 million, an increase of 3.2% over the previous year. Earnings from international
tourism also rose by 3.2% to reach US$455 billion. It is expected to grow
continuously in the 21st century.
Travel and Tourism is important to global economy by generating, directly and
indirectly, 11% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 200 million jobs and 8% of total
employment in 1999 and 5.5 million new jobs per year until 2010 (World Travel and
Tourism Commission (WTTC) 2000).
What is ecotourism?
The East Asia and Pacific region is the fastest growing region in terms of
international tourist arrivals and receipts. Hong Kong is one of the leading
destinations in the region in term of arrivals (WTO 1994, 2000).
2.2 Recent change of global tourism trends
In the recent years, there is a rapid growth of tourists looking for “exciting and
unspoiled” natural destinations. It results in higher than average growth in numbers of
international arrivals in Asia/Oceania, the Americas and Africa. People from
industrialized countries seek for undisturbed natural destinations. One of the reasons
for this trend is the more ready availability and better information to tourists. The
other reason is the growing environmental awareness of the fragility of ecosystems
and environmental matters around the world (WTO 1994; Ceballos-Lascuráin 1996).
Actually, few tourists take holidays only related to nature and therefore
ecotourism will remain a small market segment. However, increasing proportions of
tourists include a nature component in their holiday and even more select a
destination with environment-friendly approach to its tourism development (WTO
What is ecotourism?
2.3 Mass and alternative tourism
Mass tourism is characterized as conventional, standard and large scale. It was
exploded in the 20th century and is still the dominant type of travel in the recent future.
It has not always operated in a sustainable path. Uncontrolled mass tourism leads to
environmental and cultural degradation, loss of cultural and biological diversities and
finally loss of income (Genot 1997).
In the 1980s, some of the tourism research started to seek for a new and more
sustainable benign and environmentally responsible form of tourism development as
an alternative to mass tourism development (Fennell 1999). Any form of tourism
which offers a more benign alternative to conventional mass tourism can be called as
alternative tourism (AT). AT is featured as small scale, low-density, low
environmental and social impacts and respect for local culture. The main distinction
between conventional mass tourism and AT is the scale and character of impacts.
Ecotourism is a form of alternative tourism that is opposed to mass tourism.
2.4 Nature tourism and ecotourism
Any form of tourism directly depending on the use of natural resources such as
scenery and wildlife in relatively unspoiled areas can be termed as nature tourism.
These activities include hunting and bird-watching no matter it is sustainable and
environmental friendly or not. Farrel and Runyan (1991) and Norris (1992)
What is ecotourism?
distinguished ecotourism from nature tourism by its commitment to support
conservation and for better protection (Ceballos-Lascuráin 1996).
The term ecotourism was originally coined by Ceballos-Lascuráin of Mexico in
1987. It is defined as “travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural
areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and
its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past
and present) found in these areas”(Boo 1990).
After that, a number of related forms of tourism have appeared in the literatures
in the past two decades. These include “nature tourism”, “green tourism”, “wilderness
tourism”, “soft tourism”, “low impact tourism”, “sustainable tourism”, “ecotourism”
and so on (Scace et al. 1991, cited in Scace 1993). All these forms of tourism are with
the same basic characteristics: nature-based tourism.
Some literatures such as Boo (1990) and Lindberg (1991) equate ecotourism
with nature tourism. However, there is a conceptual difference between ecotourism
and nature tourism. By referring to Goodwin (1996), nature tourism is
“encompassed all forms of tourism – mass tourism, adventure tourism, low-impact
tourism, ecotourism – which use natural resources in a wild or undeveloped form –
including species, habitat, landscape, scenery and salt and fresh-water features.
Nature tourism is travel for the purpose of enjoying undeveloped natural areas or
What is ecotourism?
On the other hand, ecotourism is described as
“low impact nature tourism which contributes to the maintenance of species and
habitats either directly through a contribution and/or indirectly by providing revenue
to the local people to value, and therefore protect, their wildlife heritage area as a
source of income” (Fennell 1999).
It is suggested that ecotourism is a segment of the nature tourism market and
involves a broad spectrum of activities related to nature. It can be as specialized as
seeking for rare species or doing volunteer work for scientific purpose, for instance
Earthwatch tour, or as casual as enjoying and observing scenic beauty. Ecotourism
may not be equivalent to nature tourism due to its special characteristics including
responsible behavior, conservation of the environment and beneficial to local people.
It comprises of the theory of ecology and the philosophy of sustainable development.
It is a form of alternative tourism making use of natural resources in a sustainable
2.5 Existing definitions of ecotourism
Since there is a linkage of nature travel to the idea of responsible behavior, it is
difficult to create a universally accepted and quantifiable definition of ecotourism.
Numerous interpretations of ecotourism are proposed by professionals. Some of
representative definitions are introduced below:
What is ecotourism?
Ecotourism Programme of International Union for the Conservation of Nature
and Natural Resources (IUCN) defines ecotourism as “environmentally responsible
travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and
appreciate nature that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides
for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations”
The Ecotourism Society (TES) which is an international, non-profit-making
membership organization promoting ecotourism as a tool for nature conservation and
preservation defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves
the environment and sustains the well-being of local people” (Internet source of TES
viewed in September 1999).
Fennell (1999) defines ecotourism “is a sustainable form of natural
resource-based tourism that focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about
nature, and which is ethically managed to be low-impact, non-consumptive, and
locally oriented (control, benefits, and scale). It typically occurs in natural areas, and
should contribute to the conservation or preservation of such areas”.
The above definitions of ecotourism premise responsible travel and the concept
of sustainable development for both enjoyment of tourists and conservation of nature.
Also, nature is as a primary motivation for travel, to further knowledge and awareness
What is ecotourism?
2.6 The nature of ecotourism
Ecotourism consists of two components: “eco” and “tourism”. “Eco” means
ecological or ecology and tourism is one of the most popular worldwide activities
now. Ecosystem is linked to tourism. A “real” ecotourism can be a potential tool for
protecting environment. What is meant by “real” ecotourism?
Although there is no standard definition of ecotourism, it comprises of some
common components. The most obvious feature is that it is nature-based. Basic
features of ecotourism are:
contribution to conservation
experiencing the nature
(Blamey 1995; Bolton 1997; Dowling 1998; Wearing & Neil 1999)
There are some requirements for ecotourism proposed by Bulter (1991) cited in
It should encourage positive environmental ethics and foster preferred behavior.
What is ecotourism?
It does not degrade the resource and does remain its sustainable use.
It concentrates on intrinsic rather than extrinsic values.
It is ecocentric than anthropocentric in philosophy. Ecotourists need to accept
nature rather than adjust it for personal convenience.
It should benefit the nature.
It provides first-hand experience with the natural environment.
Its level of satisfaction is measured in education and appreciation.
It involves considerable preparation and demand in-depth knowledge on the part
of both leaders and participants.
Many of these requirements depend on demand side: the behavior and philosophy
of tourists and also the supplier: the content and operation of the tour.
2.7 Definition of ecotourism in the dissertation
Nature tourism can be in conventional mass or alternative form. It can be
sustainable or destructive in practice. Ecotourism is a segment market of nature
tourism and it is an alternative type of tourism. Ideally, all alternative tourism runs in
a sustainable path. AT is divided into two sub-categories: socio-cultural tourism and
ecotourism (Butler 1996, cited in Fennell 1999). Many researchers include local
cultural into ecotourism. However, ecotourism is more dependent on nature as the
primary attraction of travel.
What is ecotourism?
Based on the nature of ecotourism, for the purposes of this dissertation, the
author defines ecotourism as responsible travel for experiencing of and learning about
the nature and it should be managed in a sustainable path and contribute to the
conservation of nature.
2.8 Revenue generated from ecotourism
Since ecotourism is a relatively new phenomenon and there is no single
universally approved definition of ecotourism, data on ecotourism is not
systematically collected (Filion et al. 1994; TES 1998). Available statistics on
ecotourism are varied by different definitions. Moreover, tourism statistics typically
do not differentiate nature tourism and mass tourism. Nevertheless, ecotourism market
can be estimated from the present data. However, the data presented here should be
treated with caution.
Tourism is often promoted as the fastest growing industry in the world and
ecotourism is evaluated as the fastest growing sector of tourism industry (The
Economist 1998, cited in Dowling 1998). It is estimated that 7% of all international
travel expenditure is generated from nature tourism (Ceballos-Lascuráin 1993, cited
in Lindberg 1997). Tourism overall has been growing at an average annual rate of 4%
while nature-based tourism is rising at an annual rate of 10-30% (Lindberg 1991).
Most observers concluded that ecotourism has grown faster than tourism generally
during the past few years (Lindberg et al. 1997).
What is ecotourism?
Filion et al. (1994) studied the economics of global ecotourism and defines
ecotourism as “travel to enjoy and appreciate nature”. It is estimated that, some 236
million of people are international ecotourists and ecotourism contributed as much as
US$233 billion revenue in 1988. The true socio-economic value of ecotourism is
probably five or seven times larger than the predicted value when domestic tourism is
included in the estimation.
For example, bird-watchers visiting the Point Pelee National Park in Canada
brings at least Can$6 million per year in net economic value. Most of them are
willingness to pay double of the present cost (Butler et al. 1994).
By referring to a survey of ecotourism operators in the Asia-Pacific region
conducted by Lew (1997), the average annual growth rates of ecotourism have been
steady at 10-25 % over the past few years and many are projecting higher growth in
the following years. Based on the WTO forecast of international arrivals, it is roughly
estimated that the region’s international ecotourists for 2010 would be 22.9 million
plus the sizable number of domestic visitors (Lindberg et al. 1997).
Ecotourism is likely to be a big business rather than a niche market described in
the 7th Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Adventure Travel and Ecotourism
Conference (Dowling 1998). The demand for ecotours is keen. Its potential for further
development is great especially in some developing countries with relatively
undisturbed and outstanding natural environment.
Tourism and ecotourism
in Hong Kong
Tourism and Ecotourism
This chapter describes the present status of tourism in Hong Kong. Why there is
a need of building new attractions? What has been done to promote ecotourism?
Tourism and ecotourism related policy, plan and study are mentioned. The striking
advantages of Hong Kong to promote ecotourism are also illustrated. It ends with an
estimation of potential ecotourism market in Hong Kong.
3.1 Tourism policy and plan
Tourism was neglected by the Government in the past. The establishment of
Tourism Commission (TC) shows that the Government started to recognize the
important of tourism to Hong Kong’s economy and treat tourism as a policy area of
higher priority. TC and Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA) are the major
governmental organizations responsible for tourism related matters.
TC was established under the Economic Services Bureau (ESB) in May 1999 to
be especially responsible for leading the development of tourism in Hong Kong. The
policy objective of TC is to promote Hong Kong as a key destination and facilitate the
development of tourism industry. Main tasks of the Commission include mapping out
the strategy for developing tourism in the future, co-ordinating Government’s efforts
in respect of improving policies which may impact on tourism and consideration and
implementation of new tourist attractions (Chan 2000. pers. comm.).
HKTA is a statutory organization established by the government in 1957 to
Tourism and Ecotourism
develop Hong Kong as a visitor destination. It promotes the improvement of visitor
facilities, secures overseas publicity for the territory’s attractions and advises the
government on tourism-related matters (ISD 1999). HKTA acts as a catalytic role for
tourism planning and promotion.
A Tourism Strategy Group was set up in October 1999 to provide a forum for
discussing issues related to the development of tourism. A seminar on “Hong Kong
into the 21st Century - A Tourism Blueprint” was held in September 1999 to gauge
public views to map out a strategic plan for tourism development in the next century
(Chan 2000. pers. comm.). A tourism blueprint is an important tool to guide the future
development, sustainability and long-term competitiveness of tourism industry.
However, formal territory-wide tourism policy and plan do not exist.
3.2 Current status of tourism
Tourism is the second most sector and major source of foreign exchange
earnings in Hong Kong. It employs 12% of the workforce and contributes about 7% to
the economy. In 1999, visitor arrivals reached 10.68 million much more than Hong
Kong’s own population and with an increase of 11.5% over the previous year (HKTA
2000a). Hong Kong is a leading tourist destination in Asia. Total travel to tourism
receipts amounted to $55 billion, contributing 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) of Hong Kong in 1998 (ISD 1999). Tourism is important to the economy of
Hong Kong. It is expected to grow continuously and forecasted 11.4 million visitors
Tourism and Ecotourism
annually by the year 2000.
3.3 Building new attractions
The image of Hong Kong is well known as “shopper’s paradise” and “Pearl of
the Orient”. Although the number of arrivals increases annually but there is no grow
or drop of arrivals from the West. One of the reasons may be the pollution problems
especially air pollution adversely affected the image of Hong Kong. Pollution is the
second ranked issue which may constrain the growth of tourism in Hong Kong
(Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Tourism Working Group 1996). The
other reason is that Hong Kong is no longer a “shopper’s paradise” because of the
HK/US currency exchange rate and competitions between countries in the region.
Further, according to the International Market Research Study (IMRS), it shows
that the lack of new appeals in Hong Kong is a significant reason for it not being
considered as a vacation destination (HKTA 1999b). Therefore, it is necessary to
expand the appeals of Hong Kong.
New hardware infrastructures such as the Disneyland would take several years to
complete. Why not use our existing resources for instance natural heritage as tourist
attractions? To maintain the competitiveness, Hong Kong should build up its own
unique and special character. Natural wonders of the territory provide a chance to
show the uniqueness and international significance of Hong Kong ecology and also
Tourism and Ecotourism
the green image of Hong Kong.
The development and promoting of new attractions should focus on niche
markets (Department of Hotel and Tourism Management (HTM), The Hong Kong
Polytechnic University 1999). Green tourism, outdoors, hiking and nature are some of
the new and promising products most needed by consumers (HKTA 1999b). Building
ecotourism could attract special interest tourists. Likewise, the tourism products and
attractions can be diversified.
3.4 Essential element for ecotourism: natural heritage
Natural heritage is the most essential element for the development of ecotourism.
It may be a surprise to some people that Hong Kong, as one of the metropolises of the
world, has a rather open countryside covering about 75 percent of its total area of 1
097 square kilometres (ISD 1999). Hong Kong has glory and outstanding scenic
beauty, and also rich ecology. These are striking advantages for promoting
The territory is characterized by hilly topography with less low flat land areas. It
consists of undeveloped and unspoiled steep hills, some 230 outlying islands and also
other geographical and ecological features of high scenic and amenity value on
Government lands with unrestricted public access and proximity to the urban areas.
There is a wide variety of scenic views, landscape features and habitats including
Tourism and Ecotourism
sandy beaches, rocky foreshores, woodlands, mountain ranges, grasslands, plateaux,
valleys, coasts, islands, shrublands and so on. Dense vegetation still exists along steep
valleys especially “fung shui” groves.
To protect, conserve and manage the countryside, about 40% of land of area 41
521 hectares is designated as 23 country parks and 14 special areas. 60 Sites of
Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) are also identified. Some of the special areas and
SSSI are inside the country parks. In addition, three marine parks and one marine
reserve are set up to conserve marine areas. Country parks and marine parks are
established “for the purpose of outdoor recreation, countryside education, tourism,
scientific studies and conservation”. They are managed on a multiple-use basis.
The sub-tropical climatic environment and extensive undeveloped tracts of
natural landscapes provide a wide range of habitats, and supports high biodiversity of
flora and fauna, both resident and migratory. There are some 450 species of birds,
one-third of all species of birds in China. More than 200 species of butterflies and
over 100 species of dragonflies can be found. There are more than 2600 species of
vascular plants, 40 species of mammals, 80 species of reptiles and more than 20
species of amphibians (AFCD 2000). It is unbelievable to many people that Hong
Kong such a concrete jungle has more native trees species than Europe or the
continental USA and more coral species than the Caribbean (Lam 2000).
Tourism and Ecotourism
3.5 Tourism study related to ecotourism
Feasibility studies and consultation papers were done for Hong Kong tourism in
the past. Development of nature tourism was suggested in some reports (Transport
and Tourism Technicians Ltd. 1965; Checchi and Company 1985).
There was no formal tourism study for Hong Kong before 1994. As visitor
profiles change, markets shift and competition increases, HKTA commissioned the
Visitor and Tourism Study for Hong Kong (VISTOUR) in 1994. It aims to formulate a
strategy suited to the long-term needs of Hong Kong tourism industry and to
recommend appropriate courses of action for its implementation. It is the first formal,
fully comprehensive, strategic development plan for tourism in Hong Kong in the
medium- and long-term. VISTOUR was completed at the end of 1995. One of its
suggestions is that further development of attractions is needed (Roger Tym &
Partners Ltd. 1995).
The Government funded $50 million grant to the HKTA for the studies and
projects recommended in the VISTOUR study. One of the projects is the publication
of “A Green Guide to Hong Kong” to provide the public and visitors with information
about the diverse ecology of Hong Kong, its environmental resources and
programmes in which the public can take part. Agriculture and Fisheries Department
(AFD), now Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and HKTA
jointly implemented the project. It is the first comprehensive guidebook to Hong
Kong’s natural heritage (HKTA 1998).
Tourism and Ecotourism
“A Green Guide to Hong Kong” was renamed as “Exploring Hong Kong
Countryside: A Visitor Companion” and was published in October 1999 with Chinese,
English, and Japanese versions (SCMP 1999a). The publication of this guide shows
the recognition of the potential for ecotourism.
Besides the green guide, International Wetland Park and Visitor Centre
Feasibility Study was also completed (Binnie Black & Veatch Hong Kong Ltd. 1999).
The park is located in Tin Shui Wai near the Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site.
It is approved as a Millennium Project of Hong Kong by the Government.
3.6 Ecotourism promotion strategy
Product enhancement and repackaging are necessary to strengthen the existing
tourism resources and products already available in Hong Kong. Then, HKTA is
launching its DISCOVER HK Green Scene Promotion from March 1999. Some
pamphlets of exploring and walking trails guides have been produced as guidance for
tourists. Maps of sites in countryside is provided when request. It also operates some
ecotours. The green guidebooks are available for sale at the Government Publications
Centres and HKTA Visitor Information and Services Centres. Moreover, Friends of
the Earth (FoE) also published “Coastal Guide Series” to illustrate some coastal areas
in the territory.
To promote ecotourism, it is essential to upgrade general consumer awareness
Tourism and Ecotourism
and appreciation of natural attractions and to target special interest groups. HKTA
worked with the Japan Walking Association in organizing a “Let’s March Hong
Kong” trip in 1999. HKTA has already advertised Hong Kong green and heritage
products throughout the Asian regions on Discovery Channel. It is arranged to
promote ecotourism in Hong Kong worldwide by National Geographic (HKTA
3.7 Estimation of ecotourism market
As no data exists specialized for the tourists’ participation in ecotourism,
involvement in nature-related activities is considered as a reference. There is some
10% of tourists have been any outlying islands in Hong Kong and most of them
visited Po Lin Monastery and Giant Buddha. Only about 3% of tourists from the West
including the Americas, Europe, Africa and Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, and
South Pacific did visit to Cheung Chau, Lamma Island and other outlying islands
which represent the less crowded and natural areas. There is negligible tourists taken
activities in Lantau Island and Sai Kung Explorer’s Guides (HKTA 1999c). Few
tourists are joined nature-based activities or tours in Hong Kong. Reasons may
include the emphasis on urban area tourism and the natural heritage of Hong Kong is
not recognized by the tourists.
From Citizens Party’s tourism survey (1998), it was found that nature-based
activities or scenery is one of the top attractions which the visitors to Hong Kong are
Tourism and Ecotourism
interested in. These natural attractions include trips to outlying islands, nature
reserves (Mai Po), beaches, mountain hiking, urban nature trails and
dolphin-watching. Hong Kong’s remote, unpolluted outlying islands are an attraction
for tourists. Many tourists and the author are surprised that Hong Kong has dolphins
in one of the world busiest harbors (Citizen Party 1998 & RTHK 1999). In addition, a
survey completed by the HKTA in 1998 found that about 15 per cent of tourists are
interested in taking part in outdoor and hiking activities in Hong Kong (HKTA
1999b). Since many overseas tourists are interested in seeing wildlife and beauty
natural scenic, there is a potential market for ecotourism if there is better marketing.
Due to the limitation of this study, not all the ecotourism programmes in Hong
Kong are studied. It is reminded that there is no standard definition of ecotourism and
also difficult to prove that whether it is ecotour or not because of its complex
components. Therefore, any inbound nature-based tourism is introduced. Information
sources are mainly from HKTA which is the major organization responsible for
promoting inbound tourism. Some features and problems of ecotourism operation in
Hong Kong are discussed at the end of this Chapter.
4.1 Overview of ecotourism programmes
Ecotourism or green tourism is greatly promoted by the HKTA in recent years. It
may be because of the increasing interest in the global trend of exploring nature.
HKTA is launching its year-round DISCOVER HK Green Scene Promotion from
March 1999. The current display in the Central HKTA Visitor Information and
Services Centre is “Don’t Miss the Green Treasures!” which promotes bonsai show,
green tours, walks and other related activities (HKTA 2000b).
From the data provided by HKTA, ecotourism is described as a special market
segment (Yung 2000. pers. comm.). Tours or activities introduced to tourists are
shown as follows:
Name of tour / activity
Frequency Organized by
Dolphinwatch Cruise Regular Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd.
Gray Line Tours of Hong Kong Ltd. Half Day Adventure in Mai Po
World Wide Fund For Nature Hong
Kong (WWF HK)
Kingfisher Tours (HK) Ltd.
Hong Kong Birdwatching Society
Bird-watching in Hong Kong Upon request
Nature Appreciation Tour at
Inner Deep Bay
Upon request The Conservancy Association
Kadoorie Farm and Botanic
Upon request Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden
Organic Farm Visit Upon request The Produce Green Foundation
AFCD Visit to Lions Nature
Guided Nature Walks Upon request Individual hikers
Farm Visit and Sunrise Hike
on Lantau Island
Upon request The Weekenders Club
Table 4.1 Ecotours in Hong Kong.
Details of the ecotours are listed in Appendix I.
Ecotourist activities include wildlife watching such as dolphins and birds,
visitation to the Ramsar Site which is the international significant wetland, farm visit,
hiking and visitation to nature education centre.
Details of some tours or activities covering visit to Mai Po Nature Reserve,
dolphin-watching tour and guided nature walks are illustrated in the following
sections. Different organizations or individuals are involved in coordinating ecotours,
visit to Mai Po Nature Reserve by an environmental non-government organization
(NGO), dolphin-watching tour by a for-profit company and guided nature walks by
individual ecotour operators. Information of ecotour include background, participants,
tour programme, tour guide training, controls to minimize any negative impacts on
environment, contribution to conservation and prospects of ecotourism are collected.
Available information with qualitative analysis gives a picture of the current state of
ecotourism operation in Hong Kong which helps to understand any difficulties and
problems of operating ecotours.
4.2 Mai Po Nature Reserve
Mai Po Marsh is only a part of Ramsar Site. Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay area is a
Ramsar Site which is a wetland of international importance especially as Waterfowl
Habitat. It covers an area of around 1 500 hectares of wetland in northwestern Hong
Kong. It provides a vital staging post for ten of thousands of migratory waterbirds
each year. Mai Po Nature Reserve is a restricted area under Cap. 170 and therefore,
permit is required for entry. 584 permits were issued in 1999 (AFCD 2000).
Information is collected by personal communication with the Senior Education
Officer of WWF HK, the ecotour programmes at Mai Po first organized for school
students from 1985 and the public visit programmes has started since 1986 (Wong
1999. pers. comm.).
WWF HK is working closely with AFCD on wetland conservation especially
related to habitat management of Mai Po Nature Reserve and the development of
wetland education in Hong Kong. WWF HK is also working in partnership with the
HKTA to promote awareness of wetland conservation in international level to
Total number of visitors within this period is 34 066 from August 1997 to July
1998 and approximately 10% of visitors came from overseas. All visits to Mai Po
Nature Reserve are conducted as guided visit except for visitors who got personal
permit issued by AFCD. The tour group size of public visit is more or less 30 people.
The guide fee for public visit to Mai Po is $70 per person and there is no difference
between domestic visitors and foreign visitors.
Participants walk into the Mai Po Nature Reserve along the Frontier Closed Area
Border Fence road to watch birds along the way. Then, they visit the Gei Wai
Museum to learn about the traditional system of shrimp farming. After that, they walk
through the coastal mangroves along a 540 metres long floating boardwalk to reach a
floating bird watching hide that overlooks the Deep Bay mudflats. Finally,
participants visit the WWF HK Mai Po Marches Wildlife Education Centre and
Training of tour guides
About the tour guide, WWF HK organizes comprehensive training programme
for university undergraduates annually as interpreters for public visit programmes.
Trainees who completed the whole training course and passed the written and
practical examinations would be recruited as part-time interpreters. They are required
to renew their registration to the scheme every year. Training programmes have been
prepared for tourist guides of the travel agent Gray Line Hong Kong Ltd. for
organizing visit to Mai Po Nature Reserve for overseas visitors since 1997.
Controls to minimize visitor impacts
Disturbance from visitors is controlled and minimized by limiting the number of
visitors who can come into the reserve at any one time. Number of participants is
normally limited at about 100 and certainly no more than 200 visitors. Moreover, they
can only access to certain parts of the reserve. The southern part of the reserve is core
area where is restricted to normal visitors. Only individual with his/her own Mai Po
Entry Permit from AFCD is allowed to entry the core area.
The visitor impact to Mai Po Nature Reserve is also restrained by guided-visit
approach and the visit routes are set up in areas where the environment is less
sensitive to visitor disturbance. In addition, facilities such as bird-watching hide allow
visitors to observe wild birds without causing disturbances to wildlife.
Contribution to conservation
Apart from covering the cost for employing staff to support the programmes, the
surplus is used as general fund to support the education and conservation programmes
of WWF HK.
The visit programme conducted at Mai Po Nature Reserve is part of the
education and public awareness programme for promoting wetland conservation with
special focus on Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay wetlands.
Threats to Mai Po
Wong mentioned that the major threats to Mai Po is the loss of wetlands and
pollution pressure related to population growth and development of both shores of
Deep Bay such as Tin Shui Wai New Town.
4.3 Dolphin-watching tour
Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Limited was founded in 1995. It aims to raise
awareness of public to Sousa chinensis, or Chinese White Dolphins, or Indo-pacific
Humpback Dolphins and the threats they face through tours and merchandise. Chinese
White Dolphin is chosen as the official mascot of the 1997 handover ceremony.
Information about the dolphin-watching tour is provided by Mr. Bill Leverett, the
Head of the Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Limited (Leverett 2000. pers. comm.).
Approximately 4 000 to 5 000 people join the dolphin-watching tours per year
and the proportion of foreign to domestic participants is roughly the same. Tourists
are mainly from North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. There
are up to 38 participants in each tour. Larger boats or several boats can
simultaneously be used for charter trips taken up to 160 participants. The tour fee is
$280 per person. The company also sells dolphin souvenirs and postcards.
Information pack with facts about the ecology of Sousa chinensis, the threats
they face and what can be done to conserve the dolphins by the public plus 4 dolphin
postcards are delivered to participants at the beginning of the tour. After that, a short
talk on dolphin is given by the tour guide. When the boat arrives to the sighting spots
of the dolphins, engines of the boat are stopped and participants are guided to search
the dolphins. The response from the participants after the trip is generally very
positive. The author joined a dolphin-watching tour in July 1999. It is unbelievable
that lovely dolphins are living in one of the busiest harbors of the world. Watching
them was really an unforgettable experience to the author and all participants.
Training of tour guides
All dolphin-watching trips are conducted by tour guides. Tour guides are
college-educated but not necessarily in related fields. Some on-the-job training are
provided and the guides are allowed to lead tours when they are competent. English
and Japanese speaking guides are almost available in every trip plus Cantonese
speaking guide on Sundays.
Controls to minimize visitor impacts
All trips follow a code of conduct to minimize the amount of stress of the tour
put on the dolphins. This voluntary code of conduct is developed by the company and
the Marine Mammal Conservation Working Group. The detail of the code is not
Contribution to conservation
The company promised that 10% of the profits go to Friends of the Earth Hong
Kong (FoE HK). However, the company has not yet become profitable. Nevertheless,
awareness raising to Chinese White Dolphins and environment is a significant
contribution to conservation. The company encourages people to join various
organizations which are working on conservation. A sample letter to HKSAR Chief
Executive about the concern of threats to dolphins and conservation is given to the
participants to sign and send. Talks and slide-shows are conducted in schools.
Moreover, an informative website is maintained and a newsletter is published.
Convenience is provided to researchers for using the boats to observe the dolphins. In
addition, the sightings are recorded and forwarded to dolphin researchers.
Prospects of dolphin-watching tour
Mr. Bill Leverett believes that there will be more dolphin-watching in Hong
Kong in the future. At this stage, the impact from visitation is minimal when
compared to other factors affecting the dolphins such as pollution, overfishing, habitat
loss and general boat traffic.
4.4 Guided Nature Walks
Dr. Martin Williams and Mr. Kaarlo Schepel are the tour guides recommended
by HKTA in the recent “Guided Nature Walks” promotion. They co-operate with
HKTA to run this nature walks long-term project since October 1999 (Williams 2000
pers. comm.; Schepel 2000 pers. comm.).
Both of the hikers are self-employed and running their own business. They are
experienced hikers in Hong Kong. Mr. Kaarlo Schepel has run a hiking group since
1987 and also the author of five books on the countryside in the “Magic Walks” series.
Dr. Martin Williams is a freelance writer, photographer and nature tour leader and
also wrote three books about Hong Kong countryside areas including FoE Coastal
Dr. Martin Williams mentioned that only a handful of people joined the hiking
tours so far. The main sources of participants come from Europe, United States,
England, Australia, Holland and France. Tours were discovered by tourists through
5 routes including Dragon’s Back, Lion Rock, Forest Trail, Tai Long Wan and
Lantau Island are suggested nature walks. Leaders guide the participants hiking the
planned routes and mainly for sightseeing and enjoying the outstanding scenery. Mr.
Kaarlo Schepel provides a fair amount of information, mainly history of Hong Kong
and the Country Parks Authority and Ordinance during the trip.
Prospects of ecotourism
Both the hikers said that no assistance or support is given nor sought from AFCD.
As mentioned by Dr. Martin Williams, ecotour can be included as one of the activities
in the trip to experience the green side of Hong Kong and to show the compact and
variety of the territory. To make a successful green tourism, the major task is to
overcome the image of Hong Kong as a mixed place rather than just a business city.
On the other hand, Mr. Kaarlo Schepel said that the success of ecotourism depends on
how much continuous support given from HKTA, the travel industry and especially
4.5 Codes of conduct
Well-known and common code of conduct for the tour operators and ecotourists
is unavailable in Hong Kong. Still, some codes and guidelines for different specified
activities are available for ecotourists. Also, the dolphin-watching trip follows a code
“Country Code” and “Marine Code” are prepared by AFD for visitors when
enjoying in country parks and marine parks (Appendix II). Visitors are encouraged to
appreciate the beauty and diversity of life. It is important to protect the environment
and biodiversity. A set of code of practice for ecotourism is proposed by a Japanese
tour after hiking in Hong Kong in October 1999 (Appendix III). The contents of the
code include “ensure safety”, “sensitivity to environmental impacts”, “appreciation of
nature” and “participation in conservation”. A set of guidelines is also available for
visitors to Mai Po Nature Reserve including the contents of “equipped yourself
properly” and “following the Reserve instructions and of the tour guide” (Appendix
Although there are different codes of conduct for different activities, it is
questionable about the distribution and effectiveness of the codes of conduct, and also,
whether the contents of the codes are appropriate or not. Importance of codes of
conduct will be discussed in Chapter 6.
From the information given by different ecotour operators, some features and
problems of ecotourism operation in Hong Kong are discussed in the following
Many of the tours or activities are organized by several non-profit-making
organizations or environmental non-government organizations. There is no travel
agent specialized in ecotour in Hong Kong. Some travel agents may do so upon
requests by clients (HATA 2000. pers. comm.).
Some of tours or activities such as Mai Po Tour and Nature Appreciation Tour at
Inner Deep Bay are subsidized by AFCD and/or the Education Department as
education programmes primarily for students and the general public. They are not
prepared for inbound tourists. No inbound tourist joins the Inner Deep Bay Tour so
far (Ho 2000. pers. comm.). It may have problem of language barrier and not
appropriate to the need of overseas tourists.
There is almost no constraint of operating any ecotour in Hong Kong since many
of the natural areas are open access to everyone. No special regulation is available for
the operation of ecotour. No registration and licensing system for inbound travel agent
and tour guide presents in Hong Kong (HTM 1999).
6 out of eight tours or activities are available upon request. Some tours require
2-3 weeks’ or even two months’ advance notice. It is unfavorable and inconvenient to
overseas tourists. It is predicted that less proportion of tourists comes to Hong Kong
purely for ecotours but increasing number of tourists includes a nature component in
their holiday. Some of them may not know about the nature heritage in Hong Kong
before they come. Therefore, they may improvise to join the ecotours. Such long
period of advance notice and no regular frequent trip may not be advantageous.
There are seasonal constraints, for example, Mai Po Nature Reverse Tour is only
available from October to June of the following year. The seasonal climatic changes
of Hong Kong may also affect the ecotourism especially for physical demanding
activities such as hiking. Hot humid summer may not be suitable for hiking.
No monitoring system of impacts of ecotourism on environment exists. Some of
the tour operators thought that visitor impact is minimal compared with other
disturbances. There is neither investigation of potential impacts such as disturbance
and path erosion nor any attempt to determine the visitor carrying capacity across
different parts of the Ramsar Site (Clouston 1997).
The demand for and market of ecotour are more or less unpredictable. It may not
be a problem for non-profit-making organizations or environmental NGOs but it
greatly impacts the for-profit ecotour companies. Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd. is
still not profitable and just a small amount of people joined the Guided Nature Walks.
Better marketing is required for the perspective of ecotour business.
Issues on developing
Based on the current status of Hong Kong, possible major constraints to the
development of ecotourism in the territory are identified and discussed in this chapter.
Further, some recommendations are suggested to enhance the situations.
5.1 Lack of a comprehensive conservation policy
Ecotourism is nature-based. It relies on the natural resources including flora,
fauna, habitats, ecosystem, natural scenery and so on. Therefore, conservation of
natural heritage is a determining factor for the development of ecotourism.
Approximately 3/4 of land area of Hong Kong is countryside and much of them
remain unspoiled especially some outlying islands. However, no policy is adopted to
conserve and enhance the protected areas (Yuen 1998). AFCD only acts as the parks
manager and successfully encourages over 10 millions of visitors annually (AFCD
2000). Conservation is not leaving the protected areas untouched, but enhance the
environment beneficial to the nature and human. The originating conception of
national parks such as Yellowstone National Park placed recreation rather than
conservation as the main function of the parks. It should be re-orientated away from
emphasizing on recreation towards conservation objectives (Wearing & Neil 1999).
Some 40% of land area of Hong Kong are under protection. However, known
ecological sensitive and valuable areas outside the existing protected area system are
received no resources and statutory control for protection and management. SSSIs
which are not inside country parks or not into statutory plans under the Town
Planning Ordinance are not legally protected. Many of these areas are abandoned
farmlands and most of them are private land. They are under threats. Lack of care and
maintenance of natural resources outside protected area system leads to loss of natural
resources and biodiversity.
Ecological baseline information is very important for nature conservation and
ecotourism. A Biodiversity Survey is being undertaken by the Department of Ecology
and Biodiversity of the University of Hong Kong. It found that the locations of
country parks are not appropriate to cover all the biological hotspots of high
biodiversity. It is because country parks were primarily designated for the purpose of
water catchment protection. Re-designation of protected areas is recommended to
maintain the biodiversity (Corlett & Dudgeon 1999). It is necessary to set up a
representative system of protected areas, which is crucial to the protection of
biodiversity in Hong Kong.
5.2 Lack of assessment of natural scenery and landscape
Not Hong Kong’s entire natural heritage is preserved under present protection
system. One of the examples is natural scenery which may not be ecologically
significant but with high scenic value. These include some unique geological or
geomorphological landscape features such as sea cliffs, beaches, offshore islands, and
islets in pristine marine waters. Many of the cliffs and islets, coves and beaches are
still unspoiled. These great natural beauties can be an attraction for tourists.
Natural scenery is particularly vulnerable since scenic quality is easily to be
dismissed as a subjective criterion and therefore inadequately addressed. It should pay
attention that natural scenery can not be relocated and are often totally irreparable
once removed. Many planners do not recognize the value of natural scenery. A
systematic way of evaluation is required (Kwong 1999).
There is no law or regulation governing landscaping in developments which
leads to the loss of landscape beauty. The most recognized example is the reclamation
in Victoria Harbor leading to the loss of its attractiveness of the harbor. Other
example is the usual application of shotcreting to slopes directing to destruction of
A territory wide landscape study targeted on both natural and man-made
landscaping will be started in the middle of the year 2000. It is useful for the
protection or preservation of scenery. Intensive public consultation is very important
for subjective issue like landscaping (SCMP 2000b). In order to manage Hong Kong’s
landscape heritage, a comprehensive strategic landscape planning is essential (Lin
1998). Appropriate method for assessing the value of natural landscape is vital.
5.3 Lack of policy and plan for ecotourism development
Tourism in Hong Kong is promoted by the Government or industry without an
overall strategy, insufficient attention to legislative frameworks, inadequate
consultation or incorporation of local communities and ineffective management plans
(Amatya 1996). No comprehensive plan for ecotourism development in Hong Kong is
available and also lack of study specified on ecotourism. It can be concluded that
there is a deficient concern on the development of ecotourism. Hong Kong’s tourism
products and services are still focus on mass tourists.
Different government organizations are holding different views and concerns
towards ecotourism. The role of HKTA is packaging and marketing ecotourism. Its
interest is the increase of number of visitors and tourism receipt. AFCD does not
concern about ecotourism in Hong Kong and believes that it is only related to
commercial business issues (Ngar 1999. pers. comm.). Simply marketing ecotourism
has been done without making a significant commitment to research, government
policy, and industry development. There is an absence of a common definition,
uniform codes of practice and reliable statistics on ecotourism.
In the current situation of Hong Kong, there is freedom of practice by ecotourism
practitioners. Without formal registration system, there is lack of control and
monitoring to the qualities of inbound travel agents and tour guides (Wong & Ap
1999). There is a need to introduce a registration or licensing system for tour guides to
ensure the service quality, environmental responsibility and ecological knowledge of
the ecotour front-line staff. All the inbound travel agents should be licensed as well. A
formal certification, registration and licensing system should be set up.
5.4 Lack of environmental concern
According to a global millennium survey, the environmental awareness of Hong
Kong people is ranked the last three out of the 60 regions (Internet source of CA
viewed in February 2000). Low environmental consciousness of public may be a
constraint to the development of ecotourism. It may results in deficient local
participation, involvement and support. It is a need to raise the public concern on
conservation and ecotourism. The important contributions of protected area or nature
should be recognized by the public in order to gain more support for conservation.
There is still no comprehensive environmental policy for Hong Kong. Different
government bureaux and departments are with different priority for environment.
Nature conservation always is in low priority of government policies. Town Planning
Ordinance provides legal protection to landscape but not the ecological function such
as fishpond farming in Mai Po.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for certain types of tourist
and recreational developments which include building of special infrastructure such as
golf course (Hong Kong SAR Government 1997). However, tourism development
services and attractions are not included. Many tourist attractions are polluted because