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The leisure industry -- a powerful driver of economic growth (15 October 2006)



Leisure in its larger context as one of the most powerful drivers of China's future, both in terms of the expanding opportunities it provides to individual Chinese and to the economy of every part of China.

Speech by Maurice F. Strong at the 9th Hangzhou World Leisure Expo


I am very pleased and privileged to have the opportunity of addressing you as you begin this 9th Hangzhou World Leisure Expo. which has earned such an important place on the calendar of world events. There could be no better place to hold this Expo than Hangzhou, which is such a precious gem of beauty, culture. and heritage, that has made it one of the most favored places for both Chinese and foreigners to use their leisure, When Marco Polo visited Hangzhou in the 13th Century he described it as "without doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world." It was also even then a great centre oftechnology. West Lake which is so integral to the beauty and the history of Hangzhou in described by the Song Dynasty poet, Su Dongpo, in a poem of praise, "West Lake compare to Xi Zi the (legendary) beauty at her best. She is gorgeous richly clothed or plainly dressed."

The dictionary defines leisure as the time we have to do what we wish to do rather than what we must do. This is becoming an ever more important influence in shaping the lives ofpeople and society. Indeed. I am convinced that the manner in which we use our leisure time will be a decisive determinant in the shaping ofour future as individuals and societies. Of no country will this be more true than of China.

From the very beginnings ofour lives, it is through play that we develop both our physical and our social skills. As we progress towards adulthood, the amount of leisure available to us is reduced. often drastically, by the need to work, and in the case of the more fortunate. to attend school. This makes the times of leisure more precious and appreciated and requires each of us to determine how best to use it. Leisure, and how we use it, is inextricably linked to virtually every aspect of our lives and the development of our societies - economic development, our culture and value systems, our social behaviour, the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of our lives, and the ways in which we perceive and relate to each other and to nature.

Diversity of human culture

Since the dawn of human civilizations, this has produced a rich diversity of human cultures, beliefs, and ways of life as evidenced by the art, the structures, the literature, the religious and philosophical systems with which the legacies of the past continue to enrich and influence our lives.

In my own case, the times I spent out in nature growing up in Canada were the roots of my lifelong interest in the environment and in the development of natural resources. Similarly, the choice of careers and work we undertake to meet our economic needs has its roots in the aspirations and skills we develop in times of leisure. though for many, necessity often imposes harsh limitations on the extent to which these aspirations can be realized. Leisure is not only the main source of our aspirations and the qualities required to realize them, but the desire to have more leisure time is one of the main aspirations of our working lives. Work earns us leisure and leisure enriches our work when our work is what we want to do rather than just what we must do. Our lives are truly fulfilled. As the economy expands. the opportunities available to people for use of their leisure also expands. Indeed, it becomes one of the main drivers of the economy. It is clear that the sponsors and participants in this Expo are those who understand and are pursuing the opportunities which this provides. Nowhere are these opportunities greater or more challenging than in China.

As the most ancient, creative and resilient civilization that has survived as a nation, China has again emerged as one of the world's great nations, which, more than any, is leading the changes that will determine the global future. All nations and peoples have a deep interest in China's success and in cooperating with China to achieve it, rather than seeking to stop or impair China's progress, This is a great time to be Chinese, and it is a privilege for friends of China to share this exciting adventure with you and to do our best to contribute to it. This is why after more than forty years of relationship with China, I am now spending most of my time here.

 

Perceptions about China

In the foreign media and in the discussions I frequently have with foreigners, I am amazed and deeply concerned by how little they really know about China and even more, how little they understand what they know. This is particularly true of its critics. They have a tendency to view China's remarkable economic growth as a threat, rather than acknowledging the benefits it is producing for others, in opening up its own markets, and contributing to the low levels of inflation, cost of living, and interest rates that have enabled the richest of countries to prosper. At the same time, China's trade with and investments in developing countries and direct assistance to them has helped the poorest countries to develop.

Concerns expressed by the United States, Japan, and some others as to the growing power and influence of China, the threat it is said to pose to peace and security in the region find no validity or support in China's history or its current policies. The conflicts in which it has been engaged in the past have been those required to preserve the cohesion of the nation and secure its borders rather than expanding into territories of its neighbours. China's government today is clearly committed to use its economic progress to foster peaceful change for the benefit of its own people and the security and prosperity of the region and the world. In doing so, China is reshaping the world's political landscape, shifting its center of gravity towards Asia and redressing the gross imbalances, which for so long have concentrated disproportionate power and benefits in the privileged minority of the more developed countries. This historic transformation gives rise to strong reactions and concerns on the part ofthose who feel threatened or disadvantaged by these changes. But overall, it promises to produce a more equitable, peaceful, and sustainable world community.

Those who are committed to the principles of democracy must surely acknowledge that it should function at the global level, where developing countries constitute some eighty percent of the population and now more than fifty percent of global GNP. Yet, the United Nations and the system of multi lateral institutions and processes which have dominated mechanisms of globalization and international cooperation continue to reflect the geopolitical landscape that emerged from World War II. There is strong resistance from those who benefit most from the existing system to the changes that are so imperative, and indeed inevitable, to give effect to the world as it, rather than as it was, ifthe existing system is not to be more and more bypassed. China, I am pleased to say, is playing a very constructive and ultimately decisive role in this process, in which its leaders are fully engaged and committed, particularly in efforts to reform and strengthen the United Nations system. The peaceful rise ofChina depends on and is essential to the development of a renewed. reformed, and effective system of international cooperation, and the legal and institutional arrangements required to support and facilitate it, of which the United Nations is the centerpiece.

The unprecedented opportunities awaiting China are accompanied by equally unprecedented challenges. Demographies is one of the sources of these, in that the rapidly aging population will inevitably produce a shortage of the abundant labor which has made such an essential contribution to China's economic miracle, Some Chinese experts have expressed the fear that their land will grow old before it grows rich. By 2050, the ratio of China's retirees to its working population will be amongst the highest in the world, rising from ten percent currently to more than thirty percent. This will require new efforts to increase productivity and shift redundant workers from the agricultural to the manufacturing and service sectors, something that China has already demonstrated its capacity to manage effectively.

Nonetheless, the challenge will be a daunting one, as the number of people who will be at leisure, either enforced or voluntary will triple. This could give rise to substantial economic and social burdens for Chinese society; but it can also produce a promising new generation of opportunities. Many retirees have experience, skills, and access to resources that will enable them to support themselves, to start their own small businesses or consultancies, participate in public service, educational and voluntary activities. This will also produce extensive new opportunities for companies and local governments which can establish the facilities and services for those who seek new or expanded ways of using their leisure, No industry is better positioned to provide these facilities and services than tourism and travel, Tourism is one of the most important products of leisure, but of course, leisure goes well beyond tourism to embrace all of the many ways in which people elect to use their discretionary time and the multiplicity of opportunities this creates.

World's leading tourist destination

China is emerging as the world's leading tourist destination, and the most rapidly growing source of tourists to other world destinations. Most tourists in China will be the Chinese themselves. I am greatly impressed with how eagerly and enthusiastically they are responding to the new opportunities to visit and get to know their own country and how this makes even more proud of its history, its culture, and its astounding progress. There is a vast expansion of internal tourism in China. as road, rail, and services improve and the Chinese seek to know other parts of their own country.

Tourism and travel are closing related. Travel is how people get to the destinations they seek, and tourism is what attracts them to their destinations and what happens to them when they get there. Tourism is the source of important new opportunities for virtually every region and community in China, opportunities for local entrepreneurship and employment in providing the accommodations and services that tourists require. It helps local people to view their natural environment and their cultural heritage as economic assets rather than burdens which lead to their deterioration and neglect. Environment and cultural heritage are the main resources on which tourist development is based. No city knows this better than Hangzhou and your experience is an impressive demonstration of its validity. This is also why your World Leisure Expo has become such a source of inspiration and example for other communities in China and internationally.

Today the changes which are determining the conditions of life and the future prospects of people everywhere are occurring within a global framework in which all contribute to and are affected by the cumulative results of our individual actions and behavior. These phenomena know no boundaries. Within China what happens in one city or region clearly affects others.

China continues to be subject to the kind of natural disasters that caused such devastation in the past. as well as some that are manmade. It is now giving high priority to measures designed to prepare for and reduce the harmful effects of such disasters, as well as those to which human activities or mismanagement contribute. The determination of China's government to rid the country ofthe pervasive corruption that has a debilitating and destructive effect on its economy and its values will surely contribute, too, to making China a better place to live and to visit. Likewise, the much higher priority China is now according to ensuring sustainable supplies of water to its people and reducing the threats and the consequences of communicable diseases, in requiring its cities to meet higher standards of pollution control and waste disposal will produce much needed improvements in the quality of life of the Chinese people and its attractiveness to visitors.

China's progress in achieving these higher standards will be on display to the world during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. These are not the only major events that are being held in China that attract outside attention and participation, The world attention these events will focus on China will illuminate its problems as well as its progress.

Dust storms

The dust storms rising in Northern China undermine the productivity of its agriculture and pollute the air in many other regions of China and even beyond. The alarming destruction of China's rich biological resources, the threats to its precious cultural and natural heritage, the ominous deterioration of water quality and shortage ofsupply ill so many areas, the air pollution afflicting most Chinese cities, the threats to its plant and animal life, the contamination of coastal waters and the dangers to marine life, the unsustainable pace of urbanization are all issues in which China's actions are directly linked to the prospects for global sustainability. No country will be more affected by this than China, and none will benefit more from a transition to harmonious, sustainable development. But there is no room for complacency or delay.
lt is today's decisions and actions - or non-actions - that will determine the future and the course China is now on is not sustainable. China's rich cultural heritage, its precious endowment of natural resources, and the energies and talents of its remarkable people will enable it to make the transition to that is sustainable, people-orientated, harmonious, guided by science, to which its leaders aspire and for which its people are striving. It will not happen automatically, It requires a strong and continuing commitment by government at all levels to providing the policies.

Legal and regulatory processes and incentives to enable its people and its enterprises to respond to the new generation of opportunities which is opening up forthem. The commitment ofChina to meeting the requirements of its membership in the World Trade Organization and the progress it is making towards this are encouraging. Yet, there are still many obstacles and bad habits to overcome. China's traditional virtues of hospitality, resourcefulness, and frugality will, I am sure, triumph over the bad habits that have developed through from the explosive economic growth China has experienced in recent years. Travel and torism will contribute immensely to this, particularly if it is guided, as I strongly urge, by green globe standards of which I hope Mr. Lipman will tell you more.

Of critical importance in this transition will be the further development ofthe skills and the attitudes of those who host visitors, service their needs and interests, and care for the cultural and natural heritage which attracts them. This will provide a multitude of new opportunities in every part of China,
Technology is an essential feature of the prospect for positive and sustainable responses to these challenges. China with its long history ofscientific and technological innovation now has one of the world's most creative and respected science and technology communities. It is thus well-positioned to respond to the challenge ofmaking the transition ofa scientific approach to sustainable development to which its leaders are committed. China's scientific and technological community is increasingly linked with its global counterparts, Indeed, the President of China's Academy of Sciences. Professor Lu Yongxiang, co-chairs the Inter-Academy Council through which the leading academies of science of the world cooperate to address major global issues. Though technology creates exciting new opportunities, it also has a downside.

The mesmerizing attraction of the internet and of electronic games is producing for many a lifestyle that is sedentary and unhealthy and can have negative effects on personal and social relationships. Mass communications which enable people everywhere to be mainly observers of sporting and entertainment events are contributing, too, to inducing people to become passive instead of active participants in such events. I am encouraged to note that most Chinese have not yet succumbed to this, as evidenced by the many people I see in the parks and avenues near my home in Beijing, doing Tai-Chi exercises or running in the early morning.

The debilitating influences of McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and other western fast foods is undermining the health prospects of a new generation ofChinese. On the other side of this coin, the continued popularity of health clubs, bicycling, and other forms of physical activities can help keep them healthy. Longevity has been a major interest ofChinese over the years. It is important that these traditions not be lost to the unhealthy effects ofthe technologies ofpassivity.

Tourism and local culture

One of the most important things that Chinese officials and entrepreneurs must learn to enable communities and regions to benefit from tourism is how to market the particular advantages they offer. Some of China's attractions are already well known, notably the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the Mlng Tombs, the spectacular diversity of scenery along its two great rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an, the Silk Road, the dazzling skyline of Shanghai to name but a few. But almost, all areas of China,including the poorest, have distinctive features which would be attractive to visitors but are not, or only little, known. They each must establish their own brand and will need to utilize the most sophisticated expertise and techniques to do this successfully. They have much to learn from the example of Hangzhou and from their participation in this Expo. In some parts ofthe world, tourism can literally overwhelm the local culture.

This is not likely to happen in China. With its vast population and its great diversity of attractions, China is in a unique position to absorb the negative impacts of tourism to ensure it contributes to the preservation and sustainabiltty of its environment, its value and heritage, rather than undermining them. But this requires that people know more about the diverse nature of the attractions of each destination, and have ready and convenient access to them. The huge investments that China has made in infrastructure -airports, seaports, railroads, and what is becoming the world's largest network of express ways is making all major cities of China accessible and rapidly improving the accessibility of even the most remote ruml areas. And in each of these, the availability and quality of accommodation, food and services is rapidly improving as a result ofthe initiative of local authorities and entrepreneurs.

Tourism is the world's largest industry. China is on the way to becoming the world's leading tourist nation, establishing new opportunities for employment and economic development in every part of China. The vast increase in the population of motor vehicles, which now crowd city streets as well as expressways, is beyond anything imaginable two decades ago. But all ofthis progress has also had an ominous dark side. The air and water pollution resulting from a combination of the concentration on industrial development and transportation, together with traffic congestion and social disruption have made most cities less healthy and attractive as places to live and to visit. Recent estimates of Green GOP indicate that environmental costs significantly reduce the real progress produced by China's unprecedented economic growth. The indirect costs are undoubtedly much greater, including the costs of the opportunities lost for the expansion of tourism.

One ofthe radical changes that have accompanied China's historic transitions to a socialist market economy is its attitude towards leisure. In the early post-revolution years, and most particularly during the Cultural Revolution, leisure was regarded as a dereliction ofthe duty to work. Those who practiced or sought leisure for its own purposes were viewed with suspicion. The work ethic continues to be strong in China, and indeed is one of its best assets, But today it is motivated more and more bythe incentives and opportunities that people have for a better life. China's economy is now moving, as it must, beyond the hardware dimensions of development - manufacturing and infrastructure - to a knowledge-based economy that is less energy, resource, and materials intensive. In this knowledge manifested in science, technology, and design is the main source ofan added value and competitive advantage. Acquiring the education and the skills required to contribute to a stronger knowledge economy is one of the most promising and progressive ways in which people can use the leisure time available to them. Indeed, I am con vinced that education and training is the biggest single priority for China and the key to sustainability of its economic progress and its peaceful rise to a leading role in the world community.
Another fundamental change in Chinese attitudes and policies that have occurred during the past quarter century is how it regards nature. The negative consequences of earlier attempts to conquer or subvert nature, as manifested in the organized campaign to eradicate what were seen as harmful birds and insects largely failed. They did not adequately recognize the systemic and inter-related nature ofthe cause and effect system through which human activities impact on the complex systems of nature and in turn affect human life and well-being. Your leaders today are calling for a people-centered, harmonious, sustainable development, guided by science, which values China's precious natural resources and rich cultural heritage, as economic assets which must be preserved and managed sustainably.

Since 1985, when China acceded to the World Heritage Convention more than 30 World Heritage Sites have been designated by UNESCO and many more are in the process ofestablishing their qualifications. These and the great variety of ecological and nature reserves must now be seen as an extremely important part of China's natural capital, even more valuable than its currency reserves. Currency reserves can be rebuilt ifthey decline, but China's natural capital. once destroyed, will be difficult, time-consuming, and costly to rebuild. Tn most cases, rebuilding will, in any event, be too late or not possible. Eco-tourism is a major source ofthe revenues required to maintain such natural capital and ensure that its economic and social benefits can be enjoyed on a sustainable basis.

Leisure in China

There are many ways in which both Chinese and foreign visitors can enjoy and benefit from their leisure in China.

Many of them are closely related to the tourist industry - entertainment, culture, religion, higher education, health. food, adventure. youth, and minorities, to name but a few. There is a special interest and constituency in all these fields. And the same is true of virtually every sector ofprofessional, business. and social life. These often center on conferences and special events, the organization of which has itself become a big business in China, Some of these are arguably less positive in their impact as, for example, the concentration of gambling in Macau and more predatory activities carried out on an underground basis involving exploitation of sex and other anti-social practices, Fortunately, these are much better controlled in China than in some ofits neighboring countries.

An important byproduct ofthe greater mobility of people within China and visitors to China is an expansion ofthe ability to understand and communicate with each other. More and more people are studying and speaking Mandarin and within China, Cantonese and minority languages are more widely studied and understood. My own first language, English, is becoming more universally studied and used.

All of this helps to enable people to expand their understanding and appreciation of the very different ethnic, religious, cultural, and ideological origins and beliefs. This establishes the foundations for peace and sustainable prosperity within and amongst nations, Peace is the indispensable key to continuing progress and prosperity. Conflict and warfare are costly in economic as well as human terms. Even the United States, which is still the world's largest military as well as economic power, is finding that the warfare in which it is engaged imposes heavy burdens on its economy without resolving the problems it is designed to address. That is why it is so essential to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations and the processes of multilateral diplomacy to prevent conflicts before they arise, and when they do, to resolve them peacefully,

China's commitment to peace and security makes life in China more hospitable for its own people and visitors, It is oneofthemostsecurenationsonEarth. Thereare, of course, pressures that could undermine its security; it is important that these continue to be contained. China's peaceful rise is making an increasingly important contributor to peace and security in the region, and indeed in the larger world. While China has made clear its determination to defend its territorial integrity, it is equally clear that it poses no threat to its neighbors, and indeed, helps to ensure their security.

I hope these remarks have made clear that I view leisure in its larger context as one of the most powerful drivers of China's future, both in terms of the expanding opportunities it provides to individual Chinese and to the economy of every part of China, This great city, which has long been seen as one of the most beautiful and attractive in China. continues to lead the way. And in hosting this World Leisure EXpo, Hangzhou is demonstrating to the entire world community the critically important role of leisure in creating a better world.