China: Mount Emei locals demand shares of tourism revenue

World Today

Leshan City, Sichuan Emei.

Villagers on Mount Emei in China’s Sichuan province were given a share of tourism revenues under an arrangement with the government. This comes after thousands of protesters blocked routes to the sacred Buddhist mountain for days.

Some of the unhappy protesters’ requests were endorsed by the Emeishan municipal government. The government agreed to give 3.5% of the annual revenues from Mount Emei admission tickets to villagers who live there, with 500 yuan ($81) monthly pension insurance to each male villager over the age of 60 or woman over 55. It also agreed to give hiring priority to villagers whenever the mountain’s administrative committee enrolls workers.

“Thousands of villagers participated in the protest, which started a week ago,” said mountain guide Liu Sanjie. They blocked roads leading to the two major destinations for visitors and one passageway to the mountain.

“The cause of the protest was the establishment of a guide company that made it impossible for unlicensed guides to profiteer,” said Wu Jian, an official with the mountain’s administrative committee. Villagers who are not licensed as guides have been known to charge high prices, gouging customers while providing questionable service, officials said.

Some of the 20,000 villagers are poor and have to eke out a living by carrying bamboo sedans for tourists.

Liu, a licensed tour guide.

On Monday, a company with 126 guides (all enrolled through examinations) was set up by the committee. Because the company charges flat fees for guides, unauthorized local freelancers found it difficult to make a living.

“As a result, some of the 300-plus unlicensed guides on the mountain organized people to block the roads. Residents of the 16 villages joined them because they had their own grievances,” said Liu, a middle-aged villager who is a guide with the company. In 1988, the mountain’s administrative committee asked villagers to restore arable land to forest. In return, it agreed to give 5% of the revenue from mountain admission tickets to the villagers. However, the policy was implemented for only five years.

Buddhist architecture, Leshan City, Sichuan Emei.

Buddhist architecture, Leshan City, Sichuan Emei.

Before 1990, more than 90% of the workers on the mountain were local residents. Today, less than 1% of them are local.

On Sunday evening, the local government suspended Feng Qingchuan, executive director of the mountain’s administrative committee; and Xu Ping, director of the general office of the committee, because of the protest. The Mount Emei incident is just one example of the increasing number of disputes between tourist destinations and local villagers.

In the summer of 2011, three scenic spots in Jiangxi province’s Wuyuan county, known for its beautiful ancient villages and bucolic scenery, had to be closed because villagers were unsatisfied with the distribution of ticket revenues and blocked the entrances. Under an agreement signed with a company in charge of tourism development in the villages, villagers would receive 19% of the revenue from the admission tickets annually.

The prices of the tickets rose six times in a decade, and villagers demanded a higher proportion. “It is a worldwide consensus that the core purpose of rural tourism is to benefit local villagers, who are the owners. People who invest in the tourism sector seek profits. But villagers’ interests and rural development have to come first,” said Liu Deqian, vice-director of the tourism research center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Report compiled with information from China Daily.