December 5th-19th, 2012, a group of high-level Tibetan scholars and business people visited the USA on tour of ecotourism sites and educational institutions. They started in San Francisco, where they visited several parks, including the Marin Headlands, Mt. Tamalpais, and the Muir Woods National Monument, home of the tallest trees on earth. They then visited Yellowstone National Park where they saw bison, elk, coyotes, wolves, and more in their natural setting. Finally, they visited sites in Washington DC, and New York City, including the beautiful campus of Columbia University.
On March 9th and 10th 2013, a group of 9 Tibetans representing different regions of the greater Tibetan area attended the Wahington DC Travel and Adventure Expo (www.adventureexpo.com). Before the show, they met with international booking agents in New York City, and gave presentations on their companies and specific activities they offer. At the show, they promoted their own companies and tours, and also provided visitors to the booth with an education about traveling in Tibetan areas.
After visiting New York City and Washington DC, the group traveled to the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone. From March 12th-17th the group explored the Northern Range of Yellowstone, getting an introduction to the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem, and even having an amazing with Yellowstone’s famous Lamar Vally wolf-pack. In addition to visiting local eco-lodges, they also went on a dog-sledding trip in Tom Miner Basin, with several of them actually “driving” their own dog-sleds. After the trip local eco-tourism operator Jason Matthews spoke to the group about the challenges and benefits of ecotourism in the region.
On 12th and 13th of January 2013 six young entrepreneurs traveled to the USA to attend the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show www.adventureexpo.com. The group received sales and marketing training in the lead up to the trip and promoted their own tourism products at the show. After the show they traveled to Yosemite National Park and visited local ecotourism operators to learn more about tourism operations in the USA. They also traveled to Washington DC and NYC for site-seeing and cultural exchange. They returned to Tibet in time to prepare for the up coming summer tourist season.
Twenty-four tourism and hospitality employees and entrepreneurs mostly from Yushu Prefecture in Qinghai were taught ecotourism concepts and tourism and hospitality service skills in Xining on November 4 till 9, 2012.
Many participants expressed sincere thanks at the opportunity to learn and pointed out that tourism business and/or environmental training opportunities are very rare. Many participants commented that they had been working in the tourism industry for many years but had never had even basic ecotourism training. Others commented that their companies had done very small amounts of training but as the company owners are so busy they are always distracted and only offer very short opportunities to learn. The level of motivation to learn amongst this group was quite inspiring.
The formal introduction and explanation of ecotourism concepts should provide the participants with a very solid starting point from which to develop their future business plans and products. Without this relatively formal understanding of these basic concepts, it is extremely difficult for these participants to look down the road towards a long-term, sustainable business model. Indeed, the very idea of a long-term, written business plan was new to most of the participants, but we believe that such plans are essential to the development of true, community based ecotourism.
International tourism experts worked alongside local experts to give an introduction in the basic requirements for ecotourism and look at possible ecotourism products like home stay, hiking, horse trekking, cultural tours, art courses and other local experiences. SInce monasteries play a leading role in these areas and a clean environment is key for ecotourism to be a success, monks were given practical training in biodegrading time of waste, organizing clean up programs and the importance of making waste management systems. The monks will share their new knowledge with the local communities.
In January 2011 the project funded an ecotourism training workshop for 34 participants in Chengdu. Tour operators, guides and local community hosts attended the three day workshop. Training sessions focused on business management for eco-tourism service providers. Participants traveled from all over Tibetan areas including Lhasa, Yushu in Qinghai and Gyeltang in Yunnan. An important aspect of the training was the opportunity for local tour operators to discuss and share knowledge and experiences among others with similar interests and issues. All participants shared the same challenging of competing with larger more business savvy Chinese operators.
In October 2011, 14 Lhasa based guides attended a workshop focusing on introducing ecotourism concepts among local tour guides. Hosted by a local travel agent guides from various agencies attended teaching sessions including, customer service, Leave No Trace, Remote Area First Aid, and Itinerary Design. A Tibetan Doctor from the Lhasa Medical Centre taught the first aid class. The group spent a half day out at Drak Yerpa learning about campsite set-up. The group observed different types of camping equipment with a focus on the most practical types of equipment for expeditions on the Tibetan Plateau. Proper kitchen set-up, camp hygiene, and waste management was also demonstrated. The group concluded the training with an afternoon site cleanup at the Drak Yerpa Monastery. The did a fine effort – filling an entire truck with garbage left by visitors to the site.
In the fall of 2010 36 guides, cooks and managers from agencies in Lhasa met for a week long workshop. Training included: Introduction to Ecotourism Concepts, Leave No Trace, Minimal impact practices in tourism, Responsible Guide Practices, Responsible Travel Practices, Customer Service Concepts, How to be a Good Host – Western Client Expectations Campsite Set-up – Client Expectations & Environmental Considerations. The workshop concluded with two different site clean ups at popular tourist site near Lhasa.
In late September 2009 the project conducted a 5 day workshop in Chengdu for participants from the Kham region of western Sichuan. The workshop focused on introducing ecotourism concepts and how to apply these concepts in local communities. 28 Tibetan tour guides, guest-house owners and tour operators attended.
In October another two day workshop was delivered in Gyeltang/Shangrila in the Tibetan area of Northern Yunnan. On the first day 35 participants took part in training sessions introducing ecotourism concepts practical ways local tour operators can introduce ecotourism ideas into their operations. On the second day the group visited local ecotoruism sites and held discussions on introducing more ecotourism type operations in the area.