© WWF / James Morgan
Southeast Asian cities draw many tourists from around the world, with Bangkok surpassing London and New York as the most visited city in 2016, and with Asian cities accounting for 41 out of the top 100 most visited cities in 2018, according to Euromonitor International. An increasing number of these tourists are coming from Mainland China, where a jump in disposable income has created a tourism boom to global destinations. During national holidays, like Lunar New Year and National Day, travelers from Mainland China traverse the globe, vacationing with their friends, families, and joining organized tours. About 10 million Chinese tourists have visited Thailand annually in recent years.
Domestically, China has been working on tackling illegal wildlife trade, with the ban on ivory trade taking effect in 2018, and with celebrities like Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Angelababy speaking out against trading wildlife products, including ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scales. These campaigns and bans seem to be working; a new WWF survey of 2000 Chinese nationals found that demand for ivory among Chinese consumers remains low since the ban took effect, with 80 percent of respondents saying that the legal implications will prevent them from buying in the future.
However, some Chinese tourists are taking advantage of the availability of wildlife products in Southeast Asia to purchase these items during their travels. While it is illegal to buy many of these products in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, (Thailand is the only one of these countries with a regulated legal ivory market) and certainly illegal to transport them across national borders, there are still ivory and other illegal wildlife products being purchased and transported back to China. Many Chinese nationals said they bought ivory during their travels, with a majority of the buyers purchasing in Thailand, Hong Kong SAR and Cambodia.
The Tourism Industry can play a huge role in fighting illegal wildlife trade in the Greater Mekong. Airlines, hotels and tour companies can inform travelers of the legal and environmental implications of purchasing and transporting illegal wildlife products, while suggesting more ethical and responsible alternatives. Tour companies and guides, who often have the closest and longest lasting engagement with travelers, can stop taking groups to markets, shops or restaurants that are known to sell wildlife products or participate in wildlife crime. Tour guides can inform travelers of the many amazing things they can buy that don’t involve the killing of endangered species or damage the biodiversity of the country they are traveling in. And travel and tourism companies can join global campaigns and sign international pledges to commit to stopping illegal wildlife trade.
Individual travelers can also do their part, by committing to travel responsibly and by refusing to support any travel and tourism companies known for encouraging illegal wildlife trade. Informing fellow tourists of the illegality of transporting illegal wildlife products across borders, and doing some research to identify what tourist destinations are following best practices to protect wildlife.