The agricultural heritage systems covered under the GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems) program are defined by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) as “remarkable land use systems and landscapes, which are rich in biodiversity evolving from the ingenious and dynamic adaptations of a rural community to its environment, in order to realize their socio-economical, cultural and livelihood needs and aspirations for a sustainable development” [1
]. Among these heritages, the Hani terrace system is one of the best examples of human wisdom to adapt to, and be in harmonious existence with, nature. The Hani terraces have formed spectacular “forest-village-terrace-river” ecological landscapes, which spread for more than 70,000 ha over 1300 years. The Hani people, their indigenous agricultural technologies and practices, their selection of settlement sites and traditional customs for environmental protection and conservation all show an adaptive relationship with nature [2
]. These practices have been developed over time, and invariably involve the management of water.
These living heritages are valuable not only for production and ecology, but also for tourism. They are typical compound systems of nature, society and economy that present features of both natural and cultural heritage, which have become popular tourism destinations for both domestic and foreign tourists for their unique biological, cultural, aesthetic and scientific values. The development of tourism surrounding the agricultural heritages produces both benefits and challenges. On the one hand, it enhances the public’s understanding and awareness of the protection of the heritage sites, yields significant economic and social benefits that improve the cultural awareness and confidence, as well as the welfare of local people. On the other hand, the biological environment of the agricultural heritage sites is highly sensitive and fragile, and vulnerable to the disruption of external activities. The situation has been worsened by climate change, which, for example, causes the continuous lowering of water reserves. Hence, traditional agriculture is facing grave resource depletion challenges. A large number of tourists would stretch even further the local water supply system, threatening the sustainable development of the agricultural heritage. Before developing tourism, a water-intensive sector [8
], tourism water consumption should be measured, as well as the pressure on water resources.
As fresh water availability is increasingly under pressure [11
], tourism water consumption has received growing attention by international scholars [9
]. By reviewing studies, it gradually becomes clear that tourism water consumption is not limited in hotels, swimming pools and other tourist infrastructures. Tourism also causes indirect water consumption [10
] because of its strong linkages with other sectors [16
], for example, fossil fuels, diet and the construction of tourism infrastructure contain indirect water consumption [10
]. Research shows that indirect water consumption of tourism activities is far more significant than direct water consumption, an insight that reverses the previous understanding that tourism water consumption can be overlooked [10
Water footprint (WF) is widely used to measure the scarcity of water resources in the study and application of theories on tourism water consumption. It presents a comprehensive assessment of water consumption [20
]. The concept of “water footprint”, introduced by Hoekstra and subsequently elaborated by Hoekstra and Chapagain, provides a framework to analyze the link between human consumption and the appropriation of the globe’s freshwater [24
]. The WF of a product (alternatively known as “virtual water content”) expressed in water volume per unit of product is the sum of the WFs in the process steps taken to produce the product [26
]. It takes into account the volume and types of water consumed and of the pollutants generated. It considers the water consumed both directly and indirectly [25
]. At present, the WF is mainly measured through the bottom-up component-based approach and the top-down input–output approach [21
]. Both approaches have merits and weaknesses [27
]. The latter tracks the entire supply chain of the sector. For example, Cazacrro et al.
estimated the WF caused by domestic and foreign tourists in Spain based on trade data of the agriculture and industry sectors, as well as of the service industries represented by tourism [20
]. The former, on the other hand, divides water consumption into direct and indirect consumption, instead of studying the supply chain of the tourism sector [10
]. Because of limited data availability, researchers have mostly used the bottom-up approach. One such research, conducted by Hadjikakou et al.
, proposed the concept of “total water footprint” and studied the tourism water use of a semi-arid area in the eastern Mediterranean [22
]. The result showed that the food that tourists consumed was the largest contributor to the tourism WF. Gössling et al.
adjusted the WF indicators to make the model more applicable, which was then tested in a case study of Rhodes, Greece [21
]. Yang et al.
calculated the tourism WF of northwestern Yunnan, China, by dividing the water use into three components, namely direct water use, catering water use, and water for diluting sewage [28
Considerable progress has been achieved in the studies of tourism WFs. However, studies of the tourism WF of agricultural heritage sites and other specific types of tourist destinations are still lacking. They will be of great importance as they give a comprehensive depiction not only of tourism water consumption, but also of the use intensities of water resources at the heritage sites. To fill this gap, this paper studies the tourism WF indicators of the Hani Rice Terraces, a GIAHS site in China. Rice-fish-duck farming systems are water dependent, which makes the choice of research site even more appropriate. Our paper aims to assess the tourism WF and the water capacity of the subject area. To do so, this paper (1) constructs a framework for assessing the tourism WF of the agricultural heritage sites; (2) assesses the tourism WF of the Hani rice terraces using data collected through questionnaires and interviews; (3) analyzes tourism water capacity of the subject area; and (4) proposes measures that would improve the tourism water capacity of the subject area which would lend support for policies on sustainable utilization of water resources at the heritage site, and tourism development in general.
This paper uses the bottom-up approach to construct a framework on the tourism WF of the agricultural heritage site. Yuanyang County, a representative of the Honghe Hani rice terraces, was an appropriate study area. Questionnaires and interviews and other secondary data approaches have been taken to study the tourism WF and water capacity of the heritage site. The tourism WF consists of four components, namely the accommodation WF, diet WF, transportation WF and sewage dilution WF. The assessment of these WFs indicated that sewage dilution WF was the largest component, taking up 38.33% of the tourism WF. Following this were diet WF and transportation WF, accounting for 36.15% and 21.47%, respectively. The accommodation WF only took up 4.05%, the smallest proportion. It could be seen that if attention were paid only to the direct water use, the dominant volume of water use in tourism would be overlooked. In consequence, it would be hard to gain an accurate assessment of the pressure exerted by tourism development on the environment of the tourism destinations. In terms of the sources of the water, 80.2% of the tourism WF was local WF. This shows that the water resources–socio-economy–ecological environment of the heritage site form a relatively isolated system with a low dependence on the outside. The tourism water capacity of Yuanyang was 14,500 tourists per day. The water pressure index was 97%, indicating that the WF was still within, but was about to exceed, the water capacity.
The tourism WF of the agricultural heritage sites is much lower than the world’s average level. However, water is already a scarce resource, a crucial factor in agriculture and a restraining factor in tourism development. Therefore, water supply, water utilization, water drainage and water conservation should be coordinated. We suggest taking macro and micro approaches, especially technologies and awareness enhancement, as well as new tourism products, to optimize the water management of the heritage sites, so that they are not irrevocably damaged by tourism.