We Cannot Lose Rural Paradises Anymore—Building New Infrastructure for Quality Residential Tourism and Three Suggestions for Guilin Towards a World-Class Tourist City
Such an ambition challenges Guilin to both protect its outstanding natural resources and boost local economic growth. The wise solution is to improve the ecosystem services of its prominent natural landscapes, transforming its existing traditional tourism towards world-class residential tourism. This requires the city to develop a supporting infrastructure system, including ecological slow-traffic infrastructures and land use strategies that promote rural activation and meet the needs for immersive residential tourism. To this end, the author proposes the following three key suggestions.
First, develop a Charming Landscape Network. At macro-, meso-, and micro-scales, this network will form a “one-heart, tworings” pattern that can tap the values of the ecosystem services of
Guilin landscapes. “One-heart” refers to the urbanized area of Guilin, and “two-rings” refers to the “residential tourism landscape ring” in the south and the “rural heritage ring” in the north. Lijiang River runs across and links up the heart and rings. Four measures of land protection and restoration are suggested for the construction of this Charming Landscape Network.
1) Build territorial land sponges. Nourish land by improving water-resilience at watershed scale; alleviate droughts and floods with Nature-Based Solutions; and store rainwater at the source, decelerate runoff, and establish an adaptive landscape at the end.
2) De-harden water system. Channelization has deteriorated Guilin landscapes, where concreate dams ruthlessly damage both water ecosystems and the landscape values.
3) Develop organic farming. For rural areas with unique landscapes, farmlands for organic products can bring about higher overall ecosystem services than those for industrialized bulk agricultural products, especially concerning the aesthetic enlightenment service. Considering difficulties in popularizing ecological green agriculture nationwide, cities such as Guilin with unique landscapes can become pilots to develop organic farming.
4) Protect and revitalize rural heritage. In the past decades, many historic villages have been demolished, while the remaining ones are tumbledown. A tactical approach to revitalizing these villages, instead of adopting passive protection methods that offer little help in the dilapidation, is to integrate such rural heritage as part of the unique landscapes by preserving their identifiable authenticity under principles of reversible transformation.
Second, construct a slow traffic system for immersive self-service individual travelers. Based on a one-year research, the author’s team proposed a slow-traffic tourist network with a skeleton consisting of a series of crossed greenways and a green loop, which covers the whole area of Guilin with trails for cycling, walking, horse riding, and water tour, as well as a railway for mini tour train. Spanning from Lingqu Canal in the north to Yangshuo County on the south, the tourist network also links up a number of ancient towns and villages, allowing visitors to better enjoy the attractive landscapes. The slow traffic system along Lijiang River will be key to the entire network. Different from the high-speed, intensive traffic system to support traditional tourism, the slow traffic system minimizes human interference onto the nature and encourages diverse immersive activities supported by carefully designed landscape nodes, cultural facilities, and homestay connected by interpretation and service systems.
Third, revitalize the poetic lifestyle in villages, i.e., “wangshan lifestyle” (literally mountain-viewing lifestyle) as called by the author, which is composed by poetic settlements, ecological
agriculture, self-serve travel, educational enlightment, and artist and cultural creation. This is also an approach to realizing Guilin’s transition from a traditional tourist city to a world-class residential tourism destination. One main difficulty in this process is to balance the capitalization of collective construction land and the security of social capital, which means to activate idle assets by guaranteeing the interests of the locals. The “collage living–production” modeproposed for Guilin can vitalize idle lands in the 52 villages in the riverfront, which cover an area of 15-square-kilometer and is planned to accommodate 54,000 beds for visitors. The estimated annual revenue is approximately 10 billion yuan①. In this way, while realizing the rural revitalization of vast areas along Lijiang River, visitors can also have a joyful time within the picturesque landscapes.
The above three strategic suggestions for Guilin’s future development that require low inputs while can substantively promote local economic growth will ultimately renovate the regional tourism mode by transforming the city into a sustainable residential tourism destination with charming countryside landscapes. These suggestions which respond to the idea that lucid waters and lush mountains are exactly invaluable assets and facilitate rural revitalization and common prosperity can also provide reference for decision-makers of other areas with the same potential to become world-class residential tourism destinations.
 Yu, K. (2017). New ruralism movement in China and its impacts on protection and revitalization of heritage villages: Xixi’nan experiment in Huizhou District, Anhui Province. Bulletin of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 32(7), 696-710. doi:10.16418/j.issn.1000-3045.2017.07.004