It is widely recognized that the complexity of ecotourism development requires understanding of interrelated factors that influence outcomes and achievements. For this reason, public sectors are increasingly interested in designing policies as driving forces of ecotourism development and exploring policy effectiveness. The purpose of this study is to describe evolutionary characteristics of Chinese ecotourism development and reveal the relationship between policy evolution and ecotourism development. A series of statistical analyses is conducted to explore evolvement characteristics and prospects of Chinese ecotourism policies. Ninety-one sample documents issued by the central government and its departments from 1994 to 2016 are obtained to analyze policy number and content structure, policy intensity, policy tools, and participation of department in policy making. Results show: (1) policy evolution reflects the change of objectives, contents and patterns in Chinese ecotourism development; (2) ecotourism policies stably evolved and adjusted to environmental change, and ecological conservation was core content in policies under a growing number and breadth of policies; (3) ecotourism policy tools transformed from micro-regulation to macro-control, but are not yet systematic; (4) the number of departments involved in policy design continues to increase and the value of policy intensity is rising. In the context of ecological civilization construction and implementation of Tourism Law, macro-control and micro-autonomy is the trend of future ecotourism policies; criteria system improvement may be important tools to regulate ecotourism development; cross-department coordination will act as a guarantee for designing and implementing policies; and welfare of stakeholders, behavioral regulation of tourists and business, and patterns of ecotourism development will be the subject of future policy.
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