Improve tourism development through holistic design

In China, government and developers are looking more and more towards tourism development to captialise on the growing market of middle class Chinese who travel across China on national holidays. They are seeking new places, different cultures, different food and new experiences to remember for years to come. The current developments they are visiting are all to familiar to many of them as the style and features of these developments blend into a common Chinese or South-East asia style with similar architecture, food and generic landscape.

The development market needs to take a fresh approach and realise that the local area, people and culture is what differentiates the place and masking it with a veneer of mixed cultures does the place and development a disservice. A more holistic design approach needs to be taken using influences from the local culture, architecture and people to create a unique experience to the place. There are many examples around the world were places (especially tourist towns) have lost their identity as they bend and twist to service visitors with a wide variety of cultures and nationalities. You only have to go to some of the islands in South-East Asia to see the effect where nearly all resorts and restaurants have a similar architecture and have abandoned local food to fly-in large quantities of produce to cater to the tastes of world tourists.

In some of the design competition for developments I have been involved in Hainan (southern island off China), I have tried to introduce the local culture, architecture and of course local people. I had one competition project a few years ago were the beach was long and had a small fishing village which housed a few hundred people and numerous long boats, crab pools, along with vegetable farms and pineapple plantation. My idea was to to take a holistic approach, maintain the village and locate the development within walking distance of the village. The village could supply the food with assistance of other nearby villages. The architecture would reflect local styles and include various landscape elements including a natural lagoon on the site. Our design was not chosen but a Balinese style development with large chlorinated pools and overbearing architecture was chosen for the development. It was probably more commercially viable and investment return would be quicker, but the long term implications to the social and environment will be everlasting due to a lack of sophistication and understanding of tourism development.

Holistic approaches for tourism development in China needed to be taken as development increases across urban and rural China not just in the booming tourism markets such as Hainan, Xiamen, Xian, Yunnan, Xinjiang, Guilin, Jiuzhaigou Valley and Huangshan Mountain. The environmental, social and cultural elements need to be incorporated to maintain the culture of the place, too many places are becoming homogenised thus loosing their identity. Through using holistic approach the local place maintains its identity, the local people can maintain and hopefully improve their lifestyle and the environmental impact can be kept to a minimum.

I write this after reading and reflecting on China becomes 3rd biggest tourism market (Xinhua)