Has Shanghai’s Rapid Development Hurt Traditional Tourist Sites?

Just twenty years ago, Shanghai’s bustling central business district was made up of small processing plants and farming communities. Today, Pudong is home to some of the world’s largest corporations and financial companies, with multinational firms competing for office space in some of the world’s largest towers. Is it pretty? Not quite. But it is the future, particularly for China’s business centres.

It’s a scene that’s becoming increasingly common across China’s eastern seaboard. With the country in a state of rapid development and its previously sheltered economy opened up to investment, this image of ultra-quick growth it one that’s ubiquitous throughout China. In most ways, it’s a fantastic achievement, but it’s also becoming a reason for tourism industry operators to begin to worry.

Rewind twenty years and Shanghai becomes a distinctly shorter city. The central district’s offices top out at ten stories, with farmland dominating the horizon and small shops bringing in almost all of the city’s revenue. It’s an idyllic tourist paradise, but it’s one that is almost completely invisible just twenty years later. Shanghai is growing, for lack of a better term, on steroids.

Some fear that it will kill the city’s tourist industry, as cultural locations and historical buildings are wiped off the map in favour of large office complexes and high-tech transport services. Others take a different approach to China’s rapid inner-city development, claiming that a high-tech centre will attract visitors in a similar fashion to that seen in Hong Kong.

For China’s small but dedicated historical tourism industry, it’s a major setback. With demand for accommodation within the city at a high point, it should be a victory for China’s tourism operators, particularly those in Shanghai. But alongside the rapid growth and economic development is a lack of care, one that’s been preserved in historical high-growth cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo.