China has many more World Heritage sites than does Australia. Most, like the Forbidden City, Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, are cultural sites. However, it also has a number of outstanding natural World Heritage sites. With a population exceeding a billion people, who are rapidly gaining greater affluence and the means to travel more widely, there is huge pressure on these World Heritage sites and many lessons that K’gari can benefit from in how this tidal wave of visitation is being handled.
Jiuzhaigou National Park was inscribed on scenic and aesthetic majesty in the same year as Fraser Island. At 72,000 hectares, the Park is just under half the size of K’Gari.
Visitation has grown exponentially since 1984, when there were only 5000 visitors, to 170,000 in 1991 just before World Heritage listing, increasing to 1,190,000 in 2002, and now estimated at 7,000,000 annually. This is expected to balloon even more when the new railway from Chengdu targeted at Jiuzhaigou is completed in two years’ time. There was a proposal to enforce a maximum daily quota of 12,000 but this obviously hasn’t happened as the crowd now averages 30,000 daily for 8 months of the year.
There is only one entry station, where our tickets cost $Au40 each for seniors. Full adult price was $Au80.00. Based on the average daily attendance, that produces an income of $Au2,000,000 per day for 8 months of the year. In addition, there was the other income generated by the businesses that capitalise on the tourist industry drawn to the park. It was an amazing experience to be part of a crowd of 30,000 bustling to get access to a National Park and even more interesting to see how this park was able to cater for such daily numbers as well as the indigenous communities that still live within the park.
The management of the large crowds in these natural World Heritage sites was most instructive. The only serious crowd control I saw exerted was by a small, unarmed contingent of Red Army soldiers managing the crush at the entry gates to Juizhaigou. The rest was managed by good, unobtrusive planning. For example, entry to Wulong Karst was by elevators that released only 12 people at a time at 3-minute intervals. This helped spread the crowds out. There were shuttle bus services in every park and chair lifts in some and these had the effect of flattening potential spikes in crowds and dispersing visitors relatively quickly inside the World Heritage sites. Also, although there were no signs directing pedestrian traffic, almost all of the pedestrian traffic followed in the same direction (The Ikea Effect), which helped eliminate the bustling of crowds. Another measure was that all of the pathways were wide and slightly raised. Most were made of wood, grooved to be non-slip and well maintained. The boardwalks needed to be wide because of the extraordinary number of Chinese stopping in optimum positions to pose for selfies. This slowed the flow of traffic but everyone remained on the boardwalks. Selfies need to be banned in parks.
The most obvious aspect of a visit to these sites is just how prominently and proudly they are badged with the World Heritage logo. By comparison, it is hard to find a World Heritage logo on Fraser Island unless one looks towards the fine print, and the certificate of inscription has been lost. In each of these Chinese World Heritage sites, the logo was not only extremely prominent at the entrance to the sites, but was shown throughout the site without being overdone. This had the effect of encouraging visitors to treat the sites more respectfully. In the cultural sites, the World Heritage Logo was on every street sign as well as on safety signs, such as those warning of fire risks.
Article contributed by John Sinclair, AO, FIDO