Researchers explore who benefits from nature tourism

May 30, 2012

MSU researchers including College of Education Professor Ken Frank say using nature’s beauty as a tourist draw can boost conservation in China’s valued panda preserves, but it isn’t an automatic ticket out of poverty for the human inhabitants.

The policy hitch: Often those who benefit most from nature-based tourism endeavors are people who already have resources. The truly impoverished have a harder time breaking into the tourism business.

The study, published in the current edition of PLoS One, looks at nearly a decade of burgeoning tourism in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China. China, like many areas in the world, is banking on tourism over farming to preserve fragile animal habitat while allowing people to thrive. But until now, no one has taken a close look at the long-term economic implications for people.

Wei Liu, lead author and doctoral student at MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, and his colleagues took advantage of the center’s 15-year history of work in Wolong to study the complex interactions of humans and nature.

“This study shows the power of having comprehensive long-term data to understand how everything works together,” Liu said. “This is the first time we’ve been able to put it together to understand how changes are being made.”

Frank, one of six co-authors, has a joint appointment in measurement and quantitative methods and fisheries and wildlife. He has used his expertise on social network analysis to study the affects of relationships within a wide array of social contexts, especially school organizations.

Read the full release from MSU News.