Sustainable Governance of Rural Tourism Destinations in China
One of the critical issues for sustainable rural tourism is to develop a proper governance mode that can balance the divergent interests of the destination stakeholders. This is particularly true with regard to rural tourism destinations in China where tourism development has rapidly changed thousands of villages since the 1990s. Some villages have benefited fairly well from rural tourism development but some others are not so successful. No one has adequately explained why this is the case. This PhD research, therefore, investigated the real-world situation of rural tourism destination governance in China to answer the questions: What is going on in the villages? How do the villages develop the destination governance approach? How does the governance approach shape the sustainability of rural tourism destinations? This research took a social constructionist position to study rural tourism destination governance as a process of dynamic social interactions that involves people, place and institutions. It adopted the Grounded Theory method to investigate the decision-making process for managing rural tourism development. Three rounds of field studies were conducted in the theoretically selected villages in North China. The patterns of stakeholders? perceptions and practices of rural tourism development emerged from constant comparison of data that were collected through participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, etc. These patterns presented a hybrid governance model that integrates the pyramid and hierarchical structures of governance systems of the rural tourism destinations. It was discovered that the governance models of rural tourism destinations evolve through intensive interactions between local government, the village, tourism businesses, tourists, etc., despite differences in the physical and geographical parameters of the rural tourism destinations. The interactions between the formal and informal institutions of destination development constantly change the mechanism of sustainable governance. In such interactions, the village decision-making process is influenced significantly by powerful government policies but is fundamentally determined by the village self-governance capabilities that enable the village communities to develop working rules as operational rules-in-use for daily practices and for managing village affairs. Inadequate village self-organisation or self-regulation capability constrains village self-governance capabilities. Interactive governance enables the villages to cooperate closely with local government and the tourism markets to achieve sustainable governance of rural tourism destinations. The significance of this research is in its scope, method and outcomes. It extended its scope to the villages that are the basic units of China rural governance. The situation in the villages illustrates the social reality in rural China and explains its rapid growth. The Grounded Theory method enabled the researcher to examine the concept of ?governance? using an inductive approach and discover the working rules for managing rural tourism that are common in the Chinese context. Its original contributions are in both the substantive and formal theory areas. The substantive theory of interactive governance can help stakeholders in making tourism policies, and planning and managing development programmes for rural tourism destinations. It offers practical contributions to the sustainable governance of rural tourism destinations in China and other developing countries. The theoretical contribution is in the formal theory of governance mechanism that offers a framework for the study of how the governance models facilitate or hinder sustainable development in transitioning societies.