china stone forest.jpgBy Freedom Moyo in China

China is one country that never ceases to amaze those that visit it in many ways.

 

This could be its big and booming industrial base that has taken the world economy by storm; it could be the gigantic manner in which the country is developing its infrastructure ranging from state-of-the art road construction, development of power for both rural and urban population or manner in which the country has managed to keep its citizens within a sound social system.

The Asian country has such a rich history of its achievements that will leave many in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular filled with envy, as no country or at least the  continent’s combined efforts cannot match that of China.

So inter-twinned is its developmental agenda that Africa should just photocopy and implement the template.

Having strayed that long, let me come to a subject that is closer to my heart – tourism in western China – Stone Forest  believed to be the First of the seven wonders of the world.

Stone Forest is a community-based tourism project situated in western China’s Yunnan province. One will want to question the wisdom of the Creator on how this part of the world was formed with so many stones that have become a world-class tourist destination.

The place is named after such a huge field of stones that are just in too many shapes and sizes such that the population can share with some remaining as surplus.

It is not just the huge field of stones that strike visitors to this part of China, but also how the communities here are deriving benefits from the tourism programme that is booming – without any doubt.

In this case, it is domestic tourism that I am referring to. Surely, with a population of 1.2 billion, Zimbabwe does not need even a tenth of that to boost its tourists arrivals, because it probably will not be able to  accommodate such a big number given its infrastructure.

Every nation that is serious about its tourism sector would just wishes to have a tenth of Chinas people to visit it for sound and meaningful tourism returns.

My visit to the Stone Forest showed that domestic tourism is leading the pack of tourist arrivals with 20 000 per day at its peak during the months of June/July, meaning 140 thousand people touch base at the forest in a month or more. Such a figure for Zimbabwe  well, Karigoka Kaseke of Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and his minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry Walter Mzembi may be allowed to be on leave throughout the year.

The figures of how many Chinese take time to visit Stone Forest in a year can only be left to the imagination of the reader.

The place in local language is also known as Xhilling – nothing to do with Kenyan shillings of course. Through the local leadership, the area has been developed into a tourism hub boasting of state-of-the-art hotels and lodges whose proceeds go nowhere but back into the community where development is the order of the day.

Beautifully constructed roads, schools, health centres as well as portable water and electricity have been drawn to benefit the community at large. This is what I am sure Zimbabwe is yearning for – sustainable development where communities derive maximum benefit from natural resources.

Through an autonomous arrangement, the locals and foreigners who visit the Stone Forest plough back into their own coffers thereby fighting poverty. Meanwhile, government plays a minimal role of supervision because the income is accounted for by the locals themselves.

Because of its strong belief in the governance by the people, through the people, for the people policy, China has in this regard managed to mimimise rural-urban migration as sources of income are within the reach of communities and this has led to sound socio economic development.

As a result, locals especially women, are leading the pack in selling tourism-related artefacts which by the way are hand-made, and realising so much money that even the well-to-do chief executive officer in a Harare firm will wish could be his. Even those that offer tourists guides in the massive stone forest are mainly women thereby addressing the gender question.

At the gate, locals are charged about 28 US dollars per head, just about eight dollars above what Zimbabwe charges for its tourists’ entrance at the Victoria Falls’ rain forest. In a good year, the area can cash in plus or minus 204 million US dollars. This money is derived only from domestic tourism and can be more when one takes into account foreign receipts. What this means is that with proper planning and coordinating, China does not need foreign tourists for its economy to grow, but simple fishes from its own dish.

This is a lesson to Zimbabwe tourism, which for long has given little attention to domestic tourism, while favouring international and regional tourists who have become so traditional.

The Stone Forest is not the only community-based tourism programme; even for those in cities, locals in china take time to eat and sleep in their own hotels and employment is created instantly.

China has interwoven its developmental agenda with its education system, with institutes of higher learning using their expertise to research and develop of programmes that benefit the community.

These institutions of higher learning are also based within the communities where they meet the people’s needs.

Professionals from universities are so proud of contributing to the growth of their country through the improvement of policies that come from the people via various commands up to the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and back to the communities for implementation.

These are what are called people centred policies, by the people, within the people for the people.

Zimbabwe land of wonder, here in China lies nothing but a learning lesson for you.