Villagers near China world heritage site embrace new life with tourism boom
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Surrounded by a winding river and tucked among green mountains, Zhaisha Dong Village in southwest China's Guizhou Province is a popular tourist destination.
However, the ethnic village was once known for something else - muddy roads, thatched houses and a lack of arable land. Many locals used to live on government relief.
Xia Yongfa, a 49-year-old local resident, left the village soon after coming of age to work in the more developed coastal province of Guangdong. Back then, over 60 people, like him, left the village with about 200 people to work elsewhere.
Today, Xia is back in his village, running a farmhouse, thanks to the booming tourism there over the past 10 years.
The village is about 2km away from Mount Fanjingshan, which was inscribed on the World Natural Heritage List of Unesco in 2018. The village, once lacking infrastructure, today boasts stilt houses, drawbridges, and bell and drum towers, all in the traditional Dong style.
Xia's farmhouse, which opened in April 2013, was also built in the traditional style and can accommodate over 100 guests. Farmhouses like Xia's offer visitors a distinctive local experience. Xia cooks local cuisine for the guests and his wife works at reception.
In the first half of this year, the farmhouse's total revenue amounted to 50 000 yuan.
"At the busiest time, I went out to buy ingredients at 5am, and had dinner at 11pm," said Xia, adding that within six months, he had paid off all the debts of more than 100 000 yuan that he owed for house decoration.
At present, the Dong village boasts 56 farmhouses and 21 homestays and hotels. In the first half of this year, the village received a total of over 210 000 tourists, generating a revenue of 95.96 million yuan.
Long Chao, an official with the bureau of culture and tourism in Jiangkou County, which administers Zhaisha, said that thanks to the tourism resources of Mount Fanjingshan, more than 30,000 residents in nearby 13 villages have been engaged in tourism.
To strike a balance between the local environment and economic benefits, since 2016, about 26 million yuan has been invested in Mount Fanjingshan for wildlife protection, research and monitoring.
After the site was made a national nature reserve in 1984, environmental protection has been a local priority, with only necessary tourist facilities being built, and less than a tenth of the reserve is open to tourists.
Since 2018, an average of 10 groups of students come here every year for nature education to increase their understanding of wildlife.
"Research can not only provide evidence for scientific protection but also improve the fame of Mount Fanjingshan in the tourism industry," said Li Haibo, with the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve administration.