Crisis Management, Tourism and the Three Gorges Dam, China

Zheng, Qiying (2015) Crisis Management, Tourism and the Three Gorges Dam, China. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Within the tourism literature, studies of crisis and disaster management in the tourism industry are relatively numerous. However, not only are most research case studies based on a Western-oriented paradigm, but also relatively few studies pay attention to tourists’ perceptions in relation to tourism crisis management.
China has experienced numerous crises related to tourism in recent years and eventually coped with them. However, until the SARS outbreak in 2003 there tended to be a lack of subsequent research of crisis management. Following the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in 2009 and the successful completion of the 175-meter experimental water storage of Three Gorges Reservoir in 2010, the debates surrounding the major negative impacts of the dam on the Three Gorges region have become more intense. The transformation of environment has impacted on tourists’ experiences and perceptions, and even the number of inbound tourists. From a Western perspective, therefore, the Dam has become a ‘self-induced’ crisis for the Three Gorges area in general and for Three Gorges tourism. However, the Chinese government stresses that the Dam provides significant benefits to China’s economic development.
The aim of this study is to identify appropriate strategies, within a conceptual framework of crisis management and tourism policy development, for rebuilding Three Gorges tourism in China following the completion of the Dam. Therefore, the research critically reviews the development of the Dam and existing tourism policies as a foundation for the principal research question: what are inbound tourists’ attitudes towards the Dam, and how might these inform strategic responses to the consequences of the Dam on the Three Gorges tourism?
Subsequently at Stage One of this study, in addition to the secondary data collection related specifically to tourism in the Three Gorges, scoping research was conducted to elicit primary data regarding both tourism policy and planning for the region and an overview of tourists’ perceptions of the experience of the Three Gorges. Thus, the research at this stage involved two in-depth, semi-structured interviews with the supply-side stakeholders, namely, an expert specializing in Three Gorges tourism research and a high-level official from Chongqing Tourism Bureau, and semi-structured interviews with nine tourists from western countries visiting the Three Gorges.
Having elicited the initial data and an overview of tourists’ perceptions of the Three Gorges Dam and the Three Gorges, it became evident that more detailed, rich data were required to inform an analysis of tourists’ perceptions of the Three Gorges and, hence, to underpin recommendations for future policy for Three Gorges tourism Therefore, an additional 17 semi-structured interviews with international tourists were conducted at Stage Two alongside a quantitative survey amongst international tourists who had just completed their trip in the Three Gorges region and were still on a cruise ship. In addition to these, an unstructured-interview with a senior tourist guide, as a supplementary source, was also conducted to further identify the international tourists’ perceptions of the Three Gorges and the Dam.

The findings reveal that, from the perspective of Chinese government, the Three Gorges Dam is not considered as a self-induced crisis. Similarly, from the perspective of international tourists, the Dam has no yet caused any perceived tourism crisis. However, international tourists’ perceptions of environmental pollution indicate that water pollution in particular in the Three Gorges region is becoming worse. Such problem, if no controlled effectively, is likely to become a serious water pollution crisis in the future, affecting not only the life of local residents, but also the development of new Three Gorges tourism. Thus, in response to international tourists’ perceptions of the Three Gorges and the Dam, this research makes a number of recommendations for the development of new Three Gorges tourism.
Overall, the purpose of this research is to establish a link between strategic responses, Faulkner’s framework of tourism crisis management and tourists’ perceptions of the destination in order to expand present tourism crisis management theory and models. In so doing, it adds an additional dimension to the contemporary crisis management and tourism in China literatures. The research also demonstrates the uniqueness of the case: although the Dam has been thought as a self-induced crisis created by humans, it differs from many crises, as the possible negative consequences brought by the Dam were predicted and predictable.

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