Environmental Management

, 42:1017 | Cite as

Distribution of Economic Benefits from Ecotourism: A Case Study of Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas in China

  • Guangming He
  • Xiaodong Chen
  • Wei Liu
  • Scott Bearer
  • Shiqiang Zhou
  • Lily Yeqing Cheng
  • Hemin Zhang
  • Zhiyun Ouyang
  • Jianguo Liu


Ecotourism is widely promoted as a conservation tool and actively practiced in protected areas worldwide. Theoretically, support for conservation from the various types of stakeholder inside and outside protected areas is maximized if stakeholders benefit proportionally to the opportunity costs they bear. The disproportional benefit distribution among stakeholders can erode their support for or lead to the failure of ecotourism and conservation. Using Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas (China) as an example, we demonstrate two types of uneven distribution of economic benefits among four major groups of stakeholders. First, a significant inequality exists between the local rural residents and the other types of stakeholder. The rural residents are the primary bearers of the cost of conservation, but the majority of economic benefits (investment, employment, and goods) in three key ecotourism sectors (infrastructural construction, hotels/restaurants, and souvenir sales) go to other stakeholders. Second, results show that the distribution of economic benefits is unequal among the rural residents inside the reserve. Most rural households that benefit from ecotourism are located near the main road and potentially have less impact on panda habitat than households far from the road and closer to panda habitats. This distribution gap is likely to discourage conservation support from the latter households, whose activities are the main forces degrading panda habitats. We suggest that the unequal distribution of the benefits from ecotourism can be lessened by enhancing local participation, increasing the use of local goods, and encouraging relocation of rural households closer to ecotourism facilities.


China Conservation and development Distribution inequality Economic benefit Ecotourism Giant panda Wolong Nature Reserve 



We thank Hongxia Lü for help with data entry and analysis, Wolong Administrative Bureau for logistic support, Mingchong Liu, Jian Yang, and Chaoen Tang for their great assistance during our fieldwork; and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions. In addition, we gratefully acknowledge financial support from the US National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guangming He
    • 1
  • Xiaodong Chen
    • 1
  • Wei Liu
    • 1
  • Scott Bearer
    • 2
  • Shiqiang Zhou
    • 3
  • Lily Yeqing Cheng
    • 4
  • Hemin Zhang
    • 3
  • Zhiyun Ouyang
    • 5
  • Jianguo Liu
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Department of Fisheries and WildlifeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.The Nature Conservancy in PennsylvaniaWilliamsportUSA
  3. 3.China’s Center for Giant Panda Research and Conservation, Wolong Nature ReserveWenchuan CountyChina
  4. 4.Earth Systems ProgramStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  5. 5.State Key Lab of Regional and Urban Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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