During the three-day first international conference on geoparks which opened here Sunday, more than 80 Chinese national geoparks put up booths in a Beijing hotel to promote their own unique scenery, attracting hundreds of officials, experts and visitors from home and abroad.
Norbert Kajler, a French visitor, told Xinhua that when he was in France, all he knew about China was the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. He said it is "fantastic" to know that China has such many geoparks and he dreamed of exploring them as soon as possible.
The international conference is not only a precious opportunity for officials and experts to exchange experience and views on geological heritage protection, but also a platform for geopark operators to advertise their scenery. In fact, geoparks have already brought economic and environmental benefits to locals.
Mount Yuntaishan national geopark in central China's Henan Province received 380,000 tourists and reaped 6.21 million yuan of tourism revenue in 2001, the year the geopark was established. With facility improvement and geopark advertisement, its tourist number and tourism revenue soared to 950,000 and 48 million yuan respectively in 2003 despite influence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, according to Han Yueping, director of the geopark administrative bureau.
He also predicted that the geopark's revenue will exceed 100 million yuan after Mount Yuntaishan was approved by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of 25 world geoparks in February.
"In the past, local farmers acquired firewood by chopping trees in Mount Yuntaishan. However, their awareness of forest protection was immediately woken up after the geopark establishment brought remarkable economic benefit to them," he added.
China's initiative of establishing geopark started in 2001. To date, China has 85 national geoparks and 8 world geoparks approved by UNESCO.
Zhangjiajie world geopark is another good example. "Since the geopark was approved by UNESCO as a world-level one on Feb. 13, the tourist number soared by 60 percent from the same period last year," said Du Fanglu, vice mayor of Zhangjiajie City in central China's Hunan Province.
"We used the newly-earned tourism revenue to employ more workers in an attempt to improve ecological protection," Du continued.
Jiang Jianjun, director of geological environment department under the Ministry of Land and Resources, said geoparks have increased people's awareness of geological heritage and boosted local economy.
Statistics show that China's first batch of 25 national geoparks were established in 2001. In 2002, their total tourist number and tourism revenue increased by 28.7 percent and 50 percent respectively.
"Tree cutting, mining and hunting have been forbidden in geoparks and local residents have been relocated, making the geological heritage well protected," said Jiang, adding that geopark operators within Hunan Province have promised to earmark three to five percent of their ticket income exclusively for geological heritage protection.
Jiang also predicted that China would have 30-50 world geoparks,200-250 national geoparks and 500-750 provincial geoparks in the middle of this century.
Walter R. Erdelen, assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences under UNESCO, said China takes the world's lead in recognizing the importance of geological heritage protection and has made great contribution in geological heritage protection by taking a series of protective measures.
He also pointed out that the popularity of most Chinese geoparks is not as high as that of the Great Wall. Therefore the country has a long way to go to boost geopark popularity and thus attract more tourists and accumulate more revenue for better protecting the geological heritage.