New York Times reporter Edward Wong unknowingly traced AsiaTravel’s first-ever trip in the piece he recently wrote for the Sunday Travel section. Edward travels throughout Yunnan, from the valley of the Mekong River, (called the Lancang in Yunnan), to the secluded Tibetan village of Lower Yubeng, then to several sacred sites including Mystic Lake and Mystic Waterfall.
Mt. Yubeng in Yunnan
The journey he takes is a beautiful one that visits sites sacred to Tibetans. Buddhists arriving at the Mystical Falls circumambulate them 13 times with the belief that this act will accumulate merit.
In AsiaTravel’s early years we ran this trip quite often, and promoted it heavily to guests interested in hiking, nature and Tibetan culture. In the past few years we’ve stopped visiting so much because the region has become quite touristy and lost some of its natural charm and secluded appeal.
For operators like AsiaTravel, it’s always a balancing act to manage sustainable development of a site while promoting its appeal to future travelers. On one hand, you might want to keep small places a secret so that they retain that je ne sais quo that made the place so appealing in the first place. On the other, you want to promote these amazing places and tell everyone about them so that they can share your experience. How do you balance these two goals? It’s hard, but it’s imperative that we try in order to preserve the local culture and integrity of a place for the future.
In my spare time away from AsiaTravel I do a bit of food writing for a local magazine in Beijing. The debate about promoting a place vs. preserving it reminds me of a conversation I often have with friends.
Friend: “Emma, I’ve got this great small hole-in-the-wall I’m going to take you to, but you have to promise you won’t write about it.”
Me: “No, I can’t promise that, what’s the big deal?”
Friend: “Because if you write about it, I’ll never get a table/their prices will go up/I’ll lose my street cred for having a hidden spot!”
Me: “Maybe, but if no one knows about it, it could go out of business, and then no one will be able to eat there.”
Sites all over the world are struggling with this dilemma between sustainability and profitablity. It can be hard for locations and people to turn down opportunities to increase their traffic (and thus revenue), but in the end I think this attitude is self-defeating.
At AsiaTravel, we firmly believe that sustainability and profitability have to be dual goals to be successful in the long-term. We’re currently working with the World Wildlife Fund in Sichuan to help them avoid the traps and pitfalls of high-traffic areas by segmenting their nature reserves for different types of travelers.
Have good ideas you want to share on sustainable or responsible travel? We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment, or e-mail us at info (at) wildchina dot com.