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Nature Tourism in the Amur/Heilong River Basin
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Development of tourism is an important part of the “Revitalizing the North East Policy" in China. Five major cities in Northeast China signed an agreement in August 2005 to "Establish a Common Tourism Zone" from the Sea of Bohai to the Russia border. Nature tourism is especially important for Heilongjiang , Inner Mongolia, and Jilin , all of which lack cultural attractions.

The famous scenic spots in the Amur-Heilong River basin are mostly in nature reserves. For instance, Changbai Mountain , at the origin of the Second Songhua River , a famous nature reserve, with rich biodiversity. Xianghai, Zhalong, and Wudalianchi Nature Reserves are also important environmental education tourism destinations. Compared to many other Chinese regions that are rich in historic relics and relatively poor in wilderness, northeast China is viewed as a destination for nature tourism. The attractiveness of many tourist spots, like Xingkai-Khanka Lake Nature Reserve, could be greatly increased by extending domestic tourism routes into neighboring regions of Russia. The number of Chinese tourists visiting the Russian Far East or passing through is growing steadily and in 2002 exceeded 800,000. By 2005 it probably exceeded 1,000,000.

However rewarding, the increase in tourism has a flip side. Many nature reserves in China have suffered biodiversity losses from poorly managed tourism development including excessive infrastructure, direct impacts from multitudes of tourists, and pollution. To date, the Chinese government has inappropriately provided incentives to nature reserves and national parks to maximize profits from tourism. Tourism is poorly managed because environmental awareness and related skills of tour operators are minimal.

Tourist programs are often designed without appreciation of the key ecological processes occurring at a given nature reserve. For example, Dalai Lake NNR in Inner Mongolia where establishment of tourist facilities at a lake shore with highly fluctuating water regime is a major reason for water transfer from neighboring Hailar river to stabilize water level.

Private tour operators and nature reserves in Russia are unprepared to design and implement proper programs tailored to fit the needs and interests of Chinese tourists. Nature tourism in Russia follows a western model of small groups and minimal impacts and this is not popular among Chinese tour operators entering Russia. Although nature and scientific tourism hold theoretically promise for building mutual trust and appreciation of nature, this has not been realized in practice.

Chinese tourism to the border cities of Russia is typically focused on site-seeing in large cities, shopping, and night-club entertainment. This model is unlikely to achieve long-term success. A potential compromise solution is to develop activities at resorts, mineral springs and other “health oriented” sites that include environmental education components. Given the unique variety of experiences to be enjoyed in the RFE, a region that lacks historic monuments and cultural attractions, nature tourism will inevitably find its way across the border. The Amur-Heilong River itself has potential to become a major tourist attraction as soon as boats are available to ferry tourists through the gorges to the Pacific Ocean . The government of Heilongjiang Province, in its recent proposals to Russian partners, strongly emphasized development of nature tourism as a focus of cooperative projects.

Although wild nature is the main attraction for tourists, the Amur-Heilong River basin also has special spiritual places, such as Changbai Mountain , the cradle of the Korean nation. Buddhist pilgrimages are important for the Aginsky-Buriat Autonomous Region of Russia, with Alkhanay National Park established to protect landscapes of world-famous Buddhist sacred place. To prepare for anticipated demand, local governments have developed modern tourist facilities, interpretation centers and services, and have completed a tourism resource inventory for Chita Province and Aginsky-Buriat Autonomous Region.

In Mongolia international nature tourism and culture tourism have recently emerged as growth industries. These sectors are becoming popular among US and European tour operators and their clientele. In 2007 the US-based Mongolia River Outfitters fly-fishing company launched the "Taimen Research and Conservation Program" in partnership with WWF and the University of Nevada-Reno. Although nature tourism is expected to be environmentally benign, safeguards are often lacking and the industry as a whole has not yet benefited local nature conservation. There were 205,000 visitor arrivals in Mongolia in 2003, up from 158,000 in 2000. Around 180,000 of these were private visitors not in tour groups. Most came from China and Russia, which taken together accounted for 144,000 arrivals or around 80 percent. Only 22,000 visitors stated that tourism was the main reason for entering the country, but many visitors are believed to mix tourism with other activities. Nature reserves and national parks are the main destinations for nature tourists who represent a potential source of funding for sustainable management of these sites. Despite Mongolia's relatively isolated location and short tourism season, arrivals are increasing. Assuming the number of tourists and part-time tourists to be 50,000, and average spending to be $500 per visit, around $25 million in revenue is generated. This compares with the total 2003 budget allocation for protected area management of $0.28 million. Trophy hunters are small in number but their spending is large. This sector is poorly documented so it is impossible to accurately gauge the impact of hunters on the national economy .

China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region views nature tourism as an important sector for cooperation with eastern Mongolia (ADB 2002). The scenic landscapes in the Upper Onon and Kherlen basins are known as the birthplace of Genghis Khan, so they will probably become a major tourism destination. The consequences for landscape preservation are unpredictable. Development of international tri-country nature tours in the Daurian Steppe is impeded by bureaucratic barriers including permits for border crossings, especially in Russia, and lack of appropriate tourism infrastructure.

German tourist lost on the way to Mongol-Daguur Biosphere Reserve (Photo by E.Simonov)

Oil & gas




Also look:

Land-use trends:

General trends in land-use

Recent changes in land-use in three countries



Amur Agriculture

Agricultural development in Northeast China

Agricultural development in Eastern Mongolia

Russian agriculture

Russian agricultural land and production in RFE-tables

Northeast Asia cooperation in agriculture

Environmental impacts of argiculture

Land degradation and desertification

Conversion of wildlands to farmland



Timber harvest in the Russian Far East

Salmon vs forestry

Major human-induced impacts on forest ecosystems of RFE (table)

Timber trade


Other land-use issues:


Transport infrastructure impacts

Oil & gas Basin

Oil & gas impacts

Russian mining

Mongolian mining

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