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Asian Ecotourism Network holds annual conference in Alishan, Taiwan

The conference touched upon the sustainable development of ecotourism and the preservation of the natural environment and indigenous communities

The annual conference of the Asian Ecotourism Network opens in Alishan of Chiayi County on Jan. 19 (Source: CNA)

The annual conference of the Asian Ecotourism Network opens in Alishan of Chiayi County on Jan. 19 (Source: CNA)

CHIAYI (Taiwan News) — Experts and industry representatives traveling from 17 countries and areas across the Asia Pacific discussed ecotourism and sustainable development of nature and indigenous communities Saturday in Alishan, Chiayi County, one of the most popular travel destinations in Taiwan that features abundant forest resources and the rich culture of the Tsou people.

Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN) provides a platform for industries in different countries to work across borders in terms of promoting ecotourism and to learn from each other, remarked Masaru Takayama, who chairs the network and also manages a travel agency in Kyoto, Japan.

Speaking of the development of ecotourism, Takayama emphasized the need to strike a balance between making a profit from tourism and leaving a good natural environment we currently enjoy to the next generation. “Without nature, we cannot be here. We need air, water, all these elements that we think are free. They are not really free. They are the blessing of nature.”

AEN, an umbrella organization that promotes ecotourism in the region, for the first time held its annual international conference outside Bangkok, where it is headquartered.

The conference was joined by experts and industry representatives coming from 17 countries and areas, including Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, China, and other southeast Asian nations. Topics of talks and keynote speeches range from the sustainable development of ecotourism, protection of the natural environment, as well as promotion and preservation of indigenous communities.

Taiwan is a relatively small island measuring approximately 36,000 square kilometers, but it boasts 269 high mountains with an altitude of more than 3,000 meters, a feature that is rarely seen around the world, said Kuo Chen-meng (郭城孟), president of the Taiwan Ecotourism Association (TEA). Founded in 2001, the association aims to promote sustainable use of Taiwan’s natural and cultural resources through ecotourism, and it became a member of AEN in 2016.

Since Taiwan’s indigenous peoples usually inhabit mountain ranges measured from an altitude of 500 meters to almost 4,000 meters, Kuo believes that these areas provide advantages to develop ecological tours characterized by indigenous cultural experiences. However, Kuo also noted that there is a need to come up with forward-looking and sustainable approaches to push for development without sacrificing the environment or compromising the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples.

The association looks forward to sharing these valuable resources of Taiwan to the entire world, and making a better and wise use of those resources after benefiting from AEN experts’ knowledge and experiences, said Kuo.