Tourism Culture and Ecotourism

Progresses and Perspectives of the Resource Evaluation Related to Agri-cultural Heritage Tourism

  • MIN Qingwen , 1, 2, * ,
  • WANG Bojie 1, 2 ,
  • SUN Yehong 3
  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • 3. Tourism College of Beijing Union University, Beijing 100101, China
*MIN Qingwen, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-08-02

  Accepted date: 2021-10-26

  Online published: 2022-06-07

Supported by

The Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA23100203)

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971264)

The Premium Funding Project for Academic Human Resources Development in Beijing Union University(Baijie04)


The scientific evaluation of tourism resources is not only an important prerequisite for the development of agri-cultural heritage tourism (AHT), but it can also promote the conservation and management of Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS). With the goal of providing scientific support for the sustainable management of tourism resources, this review systematically analyzes the overall situation, research regions, developmental timeline trends, key fields and hot topics of resource evaluation research related to AHT over 2005-2020. With a comprehensive perspective that incorporates both traditional literature review and quantitative literature review, the study revealed four important aspects of AHT research. (1) Relevant articles could be divided into two phases, a development-oriented period (2005-2012) and a conservation-oriented period (2013-2020). (2) GIAHS accounts for the absolute majority (about 66.7%) of relevant studies. In particular, Longji Terraces System, Hani terraces system and Dong’s Rice-Fish-Duck System were the research hotspots IAHS, and Yunnan, Zhejiang and Guangxi were the research hotspot provinces. (3) Terraced landscapes and tea culture were the most popular themes in tourism resource evaluation, while sports tourism, tea culture tourism and study tours are becoming the new trends in IAHS sites. (4) Research methods have undergone a shift from qualitative to quantitative approaches, and a combination of these two in an interdisciplinary manner is becoming a new research trend. By reviewing and prospecting the relevant literature, this study not only makes a unique contribution to the tourism resource evaluation of IAHS, but also helps to enrich the relevant evaluation theories and further promote the sustainable development of heritage tourism from theoretical and methodological perspectives.

Cite this article

MIN Qingwen , WANG Bojie , SUN Yehong . Progresses and Perspectives of the Resource Evaluation Related to Agri-cultural Heritage Tourism[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2022 , 13(4) : 708 -719 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2022.04.016

1 Introduction

Agricultural heritage systems (AHS) have developed through a long history and human-nature interactions, and they also contribute to food production, rural society stability, and livelihood security for local communities (Min et al., 2012; Koohafkan and Altieri, 2016). With the recognition of the values of AHS, such as landscape, biodiversity, traditional knowledge and cultural conservation, as well as the destruction of these traditional systems due to petrol-agriculture and urban expansion, a global consensus has been reached for these agricultural systems (Min and Sun, 2009; Min and Zhang, 2019). By December 2020, 62 traditional agricultural systems (distributed in 22 countries) have been recognized worldwide as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), of which 15 are in China. At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Areas (MARA) (formerly the Ministry of Agriculture, MOA) has recognized 118 China Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (China-NIAHS) in five batches (through July 2020). However, mere recognition does not ensure the sustainable development of these ancient agricultural systems, and sufficient livelihood support can only be gained from systems for the farmers, which can then support the development of the systems (Jiao et al., 2020). Furthermore, it is necessary to encourage both farming activities and agricultural supplementary activities to keep these systems running.
In many rural communities, agriculture is no longer the main source of income for local residents, who often develop multiple strategies to adapt their livelihoods (He et al., 2018; Su et al., 2018). Among the many livelihood options, tourism is widely considered as an effective contributor to poverty reduction, economic development, rural revitalization and cultural inheritance for some traditional agri-communities around the world, acting as a catalyst for the dynamic conservation and adaptive management of AHS (Zhang et al., 2019; Wang et al., 2020). It is commonly accepted that tourism can be the key livelihood supplement to balance conservation and sustainable development for such traditional agricultural systems. As the representative of traditional agricultural systems with multiple functions, AHS is different from natural heritage, cultural landscape and intangible cultural heritage, as it is a typical human-nature interactive system (Min, 2021). The core of agri-cultural heritage tourism (AHT) is ‘heritage’, and AHT is a type of heritage tourism that involves the tourist visiting an agricultural heritage site to experience, learn and understand the AHS. Unlike rural tourism or agro-tourism, the important function of the AHT is to establish the cultural identity of the heritage site, where knowledge, experience, skills of traditional agriculture and agrobiodiversity are all essential elements. Meanwhile, in contrast to other types of heritage tourism, AHT emphasizes the conservation of biodiversity, the synergistic evolution of human-nature linkages and the adaptation of humans to the natural environment for tourists. Thus, AHS is often considered a tourism resource to be developed in a conservation-focused manner. To promote the development of AHT, properly evaluated and managed actions can play a key role in this complementary activity.
Given the dramatic increase in research interest and planning requirements in resource evaluation of AHT, a large number of studies and methods have been proposed. Despite the availability of extensive publications and methods for resource evaluation, previous articles have seldom reviewed the research progress (Sun, 2012; Tian et al., 2014), especially that related to AHT, and as a result, little is known about the research structure and potential method improvement perspectives. Scientometric analysis is a method for identifying research trends, discovering knowledge domains which reveal complex relationships between research topics, authors and institutions, and helping researchers to assess the progress in specific research areas. To achieve the research goals of scientometric analysis, citespace is a popular research tool for knowledge mapping, research network detection and emerging trend prediction that is useful for the identification of papers (Fang et al., 2018). This paper uses literature analysis and visual formatting methods to illustrate the research progress and topical issues related to tourism resource evaluation in China’s AHT, with a particular focus on three main questions. 1) According to the definition used by FAO and MARA, AHS includes ecological and cultural landscapes, traditional agri-technology and knowledge systems, biodiversity and rural culture; therefore, which part is the key element for the tourism resource evaluation in AHT? 2) How are evaluation methods used in this research field, and what are their research features and improvements? 3) From other fields of tourism evaluation research, what research phases and opportunities for future research seem promising? To answer these questions, the research goals of this study are as follows: 1) Evaluate the overall state of research in tourism resource evaluation of AHS from the perspectives of papers, keywords, spatial analysis of research areas, authors and institution of collaboration networks; 2) Summarize tourism evaluation methods in other research areas related to AHS; and 3) Obtain perspectives on evaluation areas, evolutionary trends and future research directions.

2 Methodology

2.1 Research framework

In addition to the officially recognized GIAHS and China-NIAHS by FAO and MARA, respectively, a number of other outstanding agricultural heritage systems that are not recognized should also be referred to as AHS. In order to make the research data more complete, we have included in the research database some of the AHS studies that have outstanding heritage conservation and tourism development values but are not officially recognized as such. Based on these criteria, we searched for the literature on the evaluation of tourism resources published during 2005-2020 on the AHS sites in China (including 18 GIAHS sites, 118 China-NIAHS sites and other heritage sites highly correlated to AHS(① Such as “Rice-Fish”, “Dike-pond”, “Terrace”, etc., which are highly correlated to AHS without recognition by MARA or FAO.)), by statistical and scientometric analysis. At the same time, to provide an evaluation method reference for AHT, we also searched for the evaluation studies of tourism resources in other research fields related to AHS. The research framework is shown in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1 The research framework

2.2 Database construction

The core collection database was compiled from China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) and Web of Science (WoS). In order to ensure the reliability of data quality, the Chinese literature was selected from Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI), Core Journal of China (CJC) and Chinese Science Citation Database (CSCD); while the English literature was selected from Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI). The selectivity of these databases is effective in ensuring the quality of the research literature and obtaining the relevant research data in the field of tourism resource evaluation (Li et al., 2017).
When collecting literature for the tourism resource evaluation of AHT from these databases, the criteria were: 1) themes = (“name of AHS” or “name of the county of AHS”) and (“tourism resource” or “tourism attraction”) and “evaluation”; 2) time span = “2005-2020”; 3) authors = “China”; and 4) document types = “articles” and “review articles” and “early access”. For other research fields of tourism evaluation related to AHS, the criteria were: 1) themes = (“traditional villages” or “ancient villages” or “intangible cultural heritage” or “nature reserves” or “nature park” or “ethnic minority culture”) and (“tourism resource” or “tourism attraction”) and “evaluation”; 2) time span = “2005-2020”; 3) authors = “China”; and 4) document types = “articles” and “review articles” and “early access”. Unrelated articles were removed through a manual screening process. The results using the parameters above retrieved 294 publications for AHS and 776 publications for those related to AHS, which were downloaded on July 10, 2021.

3 Data analysis

3.1 Statistical analysis of tourism resource evaluations of AHT

3.1.1 Temporal distribution of published articles

The temporal distribution of literature from 2005 to 2020 is illustrated in Fig. 2, and some article evolution characteristics can be summarized. The figure shows a steady increase in the number of research articles, which can be divided into two development phases. In the first development phase (2005-2012), the number of articles was under 11 per year. Since AHS had little social impacts at this time, there were few related research articles. In the second development phase (2013-2020), the number of articles increased rapidly, with more than 20 articles published annually from 2013 to 2020. It is worth noting that MOA launched the recognition and conservation of China-NIAHS in 2012, and announced the implementation of the Administrative Measures for Important Agricultural Heritage Systems in 2015 (MARA, 2015). These measures have enhanced the popularity of AHS and effectively promoted the development of related tourism research in China.
Fig. 2 Time distribution of literature from 2005 to 2020

3.1.2 Spatial distribution of heritage sites

For AHS research, the frequency of publications indicates the research status of each heritage site, which can reflect the spatial differences of tourism resource evaluation research from a macro perspective, and play a guiding role in the selection of research areas for subsequent studies.
The 294 publications selected in this study included 196 publications on GIAHS sites, 80 publications on China-NIAHS sites and 18 publications on heritage sites highly correlated to AHS (Fig. 3). In general, the publications on GIAHS sites were significantly more numerous than those on either China-NIAHS sites or other heritage sites highly correlated to AHS without recognition. The GIAHS and China-NIAHS sites accounted for 93.9% of the total publications. Thus, the recognition of AHS by MARA or FAO played an important role in promoting local tourism development and academic evaluation research.
Fig. 3 The research article distribution of heritage types in AHS
For the frequencies of the individual GIAHS and China-NIAHS sites, 8 GIAHS sites have more than 10 publications (Table 1) and 8 China-NIAHS sites have more than 3 publications (Table 2). In terms of the publications on AHS sites, the research on tourism resource evaluation focused on the terraced landscapes of GIAHS, such as Longji terraces and Hani terraces, far more often than the other AHS sites. There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon. 1) Terraces may be more attractive to tourists, as they are spectacular in the landscape. 2) Compared with other agri-types, the commercial tourism development of the terraces may be more mature, and the demand for resource evaluation stronger. 3) Terrace resources could be broader in spatial distribution, which makes them easier for resource evaluation. At the same time, dissertations account for a large proportion of the publications, which shows that the postgraduate group has become the backbone of tourism resource evaluation of AHS.
Table 1 The GIAHS sites which have more than 10 publications
Province GIAHS site Articles Dissertations Total
Guangxi Longji Terraces System, Longsheng 23 15 38
Yunnan Hani Rice Terraces System, Honghe 18 17 35
Guizhou Dong’s Rice-Fish-Duck System, Congjiang 14 10 24
Yunnan Pu’er Traditional Tea Agrosystem, Pu’er 11 5 16
Zhejiang Rich-Fish Culture System, Qingtian 11 1 12
Hunan Ziquejie Terraces, Xinhua 8 4 12
Gansu Zhagana Agriculture-Forestry-Animal Husbandry Composite System, Diebu 10 1 11
Jiangsu Duotian Agrosystem, Xinghua 10 1 11
Table 2 The China-NIAHS sites which have more than three publications
Province China-NIAHS sites Articles Dissertations Total
Sichuan Linpan Farming System, Pidu 2 7 9
Zhejiang Traditional Freshwater Pearl Utilization System, Deqing 1 6 7
Heilongjiang Hezhe Nationality Fish Culture System, Fuyuan 6 0 6
Fujian Tieguanyin Tea Culture System, Anxi 4 2 6
Jiangsu Gaoyou Lake Agricultural System, Gaoyou 3 2 5
Zhejiang Mushroom Cultural System, Qingyuan 3 1 4
Zhejiang Bamboo Culture System, Anji 2 2 4
Guangdong Dike-pond System, Foshan 3 1 4
From the provincial perspective, the spatial distribution of the publications in each province is shown in Fig. 4. Related research was concentrated in a few provinces, of which Yunnan was the most frequently studied area. The other provinces with more than 20 publications are Zhejiang, Guangxi, Guizhou and Fujian. Overall, the publications on GIAHS sites outnumber those of China-NIAHS and other heritage sites highly correlated to AHS. There are three possible reasons for this phenomenon. 1) Some AHS sites were recognized earlier, which made them receive more attention from the scholars for a long period time. 2) These tourism resources have important value and typical significance for evaluation and development. 3) There were relevant research institutions around the AHS sites, providing good research opportunities.
Fig. 4 The provincial distribution of the publications

3.2 Scientometric analysis of tourism resource evaluations of AHT

CiteSpace provides three visualizations methods: collaboration network view, timeline view and time zone view. Among them, collaboration network view and timeline view are the two most commonly used. The collaboration network is often used to examine a large amount of literature and to reveal a scientific discipline’s knowledge maps (Acedo and Casillas, 2005). The collaboration network is used to determine the frequency with which research objects (such as authors and institutions) of related literature are jointly cited, from which the scientific knowledge structures for the field can be obtained (Olawumi and Chan, 2018). The timeline view focuses on the relationships between the descriptions of clusters and the historical span of the document, which can reveal the hot topics of research at different times (Chen, 2006). The scientometric analysis of this paper was conducted to visualize the review of tourism resource evaluation of AHS in terms of keywords, authors and institutions of the collaboration networks, burst words and timeline maps of hot topics.

3.2.1 Keyword collaboration analysis

As mentioned above, the size of the node represents the frequency of keywords appearing in the 294 publications. “Agricultural Heritage Systems”, “GIAHS”, “China- NIAHS” and “tourism resources” were the most frequent keywords in the theme research. In terms of tourism types, “ecotourism”, “rural tourism”, “ethnic village tourism”, “tea culture tourism” and “sports tourism” were the main aspects of resource evaluation. From the perspective of the development process, ecotourism and rural tourism were two themes in the evaluation of AHT. This phenomenon was closely related to the requirements for dynamic conservation and adaptive management of AHS. At the same time, the content of tourism resource evaluation was deeply affected by resource endowments. Some heritage sites with relatively complete preservation of ancient buildings were regarded as a treasure of tourism resources and have become an important part of the resource evaluation of AHT. Among the agri-products of AHS, since Chinese people have a long-standing love for tea, tea and its culture were the most sought-after tourism products for tourists, i.e., “Tieguanyin tea”, “jasmine tea”, “black tea” and “Pu’er tea”. Tea planting, processing, and the related local and regional cultures all had unique resource evaluation and development values. It has become a popular trend to develop study tours, i.e., health and wellness tourism with the resource endowment of tea products and tea culture in some counties, which is an important strategy for developing the local economy. For some mountainous heritage sites, the processing and transportation of agri-products is not convenient. If limited to the development of agri-products, the unique charm of AHS for tourists could not be demonstrated very well. However, these heritage sites are often located in remote mountainous areas with a superior environment and magnificent scenery, and the undulating terrain has created good conditions for the development of sports tourism. Many heritage sites have taken another route to develop tourism by holding sports events, such as marathons, heritage cycling and mountaineering. These tourism festivals not only led to the thriving of the tourism economy, but also enhanced the popularity of the AHS.
In terms of tourism resource evaluation, value evaluation and tourism development condition evaluation were the main parts. Under the guidance of market demand, tourism resource evaluation paid more attention to the value of resources to tourists, especially resource development conditions, which were significantly influenced by traffic location conditions and the geographical environment. In addition, ornamental value, cultural value, scientific value and development value were hot topics for scholars. For ornamental value, scholars mainly evaluated the ornamental characteristics, such as the scale, form, color and spatial hierarchy of tourism resources. In recent years, research on the quality of landscape aesthetics from the perspective of tourists has also been increasing rapidly. For cultural value, the uniqueness, diversity, authenticity and historical significance of agri-culture and local customs were the main research interests of scholars, such as rural-ecological culture, tea culture and minority culture. For the scientific value, the historical value, traditional knowledge and scientific connotation of the ecosystem were precious wealth for heritage sites, and formed the basis for evaluating popular science tourism resources. As for development value, the spatial locations, market conditions, facility qualities, policy conditions and environmental assessments were important components of the evaluations.
To clearly show the progress of tourism resource evaluation methods, Table 3 benefits from the visualization of the grouping structure and reflects the frequency of keywords in the literature which was close to tourism resource evaluation methods. Overall, the “Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities -Threats” (SWOT) model, Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) method and their improvement methods represented most of the evaluation methods in the 294 publications. In addition, the multi-level grey evaluation method, Important-Performance Analysis (IPA) method, fuzzy level comprehensive evaluation method, principal component analysis method and entropy weight method were also used, but not as popular as the others.
Table 3 The top 10 high-frequency tourism resource evaluation methods related to AHS
No. Count Year Keyword No. Count Year Keyword
1 74 2005 SWOT model 6 16 2009 IPA method
2 32 2007 AHP method 7 12 2006 Fuzzy level comprehensive evaluation method
3 28 2006 AHP Fuzzy Rating model 8 12 2011 Principal component analysis method
4 25 2009 SWOT-AHP method 9 8 2013 Entropy weight method
5 19 2009 Multi-level grey evaluation method 10 5 2009 AHP-fuzzy comprehensive evaluation method

3.2.2 Research distribution and burst word analysis

Fig. 6 Timeline map of AHT resource evaluation research
Table 4 Top 15 keywords with the strongest citation bursts during 2005-2020
Keywords Begin End Strength 1 2005-2020 2
Agri-cultural heritage 2005 2019 24.51
Tourism development 2005 2009 9.21
Qingtian 2005 2009 7.01
Rice-culture system 2005 2010 8.45
Tourism resource 2006 2018 15.71
Development strategy 2006 2010 8.67
Development model 2006 2010 6.41
Evaluation method 2006 2010 7.17
Hani Terraces 2010 2014 6.11
Dynamic conservation 2010 2014 8.31
China-NIAHS 2012 2019 11.03
Quantification method 2015 2018 6.39
Tea culture 2018 2020 3.62
Rural revitalization 2018 2020 3.41
Study tours 2019 2020 2.98

Note: 1 Strength is an indicator to measure the degree of a burst event. The larger the value, the more active the keyword is in the research field. 2 The red lines indicate the years with active burst words, and the blue lines indicate the years with inactive burst words.

The data in Fig. 5 and Table 4 indicate that the AHT resource evaluation research can be roughly divided into two stages, a development-oriented period (2005-2012) and a conservation-oriented period (2013-2020). In the early stages, although conservation was also being emphasized in related studies, the methods and modes of resource exploitation was a major theme of research. Evaluation methods and development strategies were central topics in this phase of research. On the one hand, scholars did not have a clear understanding of the relationship between AHS and AHT, or the importance of why AHS should be conserved. On the other hand, the AHS was just starting out at this time and lacked a certain economic backbone in its development process, so the economic conversion of resources was always the preferred topic. In the economic-oriented research context, some scholars summarized and reflected on the connotations and problems of AHT (Cui, 2008; Sun et al., 2010), and this also led to discussions about the boundaries between development and conservation. The major research shift took place roughly during 2012-2013. In 2012, the MOA officially launched the selection process for the China-NIAHS, with dynamic conservation being one of the key principles that was repeatedly highlighted. Thus, AHT research entered into a conservation-oriented period under the influence of policy-driven forces. Also, under the influence of ecological civilization and rural revitalization policies, economic development was no longer the primary indicator, and the concept of sustainable tourism was gradually becoming widely recognized. The evolution of the AHT at this time was no longer based on a single indicator of “tourist numbers”. The development of the AHT also placed greater emphasis on versatility, with greater recognition of its positive roles in historical inheritance, scientific popularization and ecological conservation.
Fig. 5 The network of keywords for tourism resource evaluation related to AHS

3.2.3 Institutional collaboration analysis

The collaboration network of institutions can help to show the relationships involved in the cooperation between the key institutions and reveal the influence among the institutions (Fang et al., 2018). The collaboration network of institutions that contributed to tourism resource evaluation of AHS research consisted of 148 nodes and 68 collaboration links (Fig. 7). In the network of institutions, the node size represents the number of papers published by the corresponding institution. After assigning four articles as a threshold, 14 research institutions are listed. From the quantitative perspective among institutions, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS (56), Nanjing Agricultural University (38) and Beijing Union University (24), were the main contributors and represented the leaders in tourism resource evaluation of AHS. On the whole, most of the research institutions were agricultural and forestry universities or institutes. Beijing was the most concentrated area for institutions, including eight universities or institutes and accounting for 57.1%. The other institutions are mostly distributed in the southeast coastal and southwest mountainous areas.
Fig. 7 The network of institutions for tourism resource evaluation related to AHS

3.2.4 Author collaboration analysis

In collaboration analysis, the network of influential authors can be identified by generating a knowledge map, which can help in identifying the key authors in the research field and establishing cooperative relationships (Li et al., 2017).
The collaboration network of authors who contributed to tourism resource evaluation of AHS research consisted of 325 nodes and 338 collaboration links (Fig. 8). In this network, the most cooperation was seen in the work published by MIN Qingwen (frequency = 38) of Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, followed by SUN Yehong (frequency = 26) of Beijing Union University, SU Mingming (frequency = 13) of Renmin University of China, and then ZHANG Yongxun (frequency = 9) of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, who were the leading scholars in tourism resource evaluation of AHS. Combined with the institutional collaboration analysis, and in addition to the cooperative relationships, the next most common collaboration type occurs between scholars and their doctoral students, or past working relationships.
Fig. 8 The network of authors for tourism resource evaluation related to AHS

3.3 Analysis of tourism resource evaluation in other research fields related to AHS

By definition, AHS sites are outstanding landscapes of aesthetic beauty that combine agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage (FAO, 2019). Due to the complexity of these systems, the tourism resources not only include natural and cultural landscapes, but also various cultural phenomena derived from the core elements. In light of the tourism resource characteristics of AHS (including obvious seasonal periodicity, remarkable spatial differences, strong element coupling, high participation, distinct local characteristics, strong comprehensive attraction and rich tourism product types), some tourism resources are related to AHS, e.g., traditional villages (ancient villages), intangible cultural heritages, nature reserves and ethnic minority cultures. For these research fields, the resource evaluation methods have a reference significance for AHT. We searched for the literature with either a citation rate of more than once or a low citation rate but high downloads in the most recent 3 years. This search yielded a total of 776 publications, which can provide further resource evaluation method references for the AHT research fields.
At present, a relatively mature technical system of tourism resource evaluation has been formed in China. The evaluation methods have changed from the early qualitative experience evaluation to the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. The system of evaluation methods has been constantly enriched and improved. For the qualitative methods, the evaluation was mainly applied to landscape resources and usually based on the subjective knowledge level and experience of scholars, which could grasp the characteristics of tourism resources as a whole, but also had the disadvantages of strong subjectivity and randomness. For the quantitative research methods, the resource evaluation elements could be processed in layers, and the evaluation results were clear and objective. However, due to the cumbersome calculation process and the lack of data for certain characteristic values, it was difficult to popularize in practice, and the subjectivity of index selection and rights confirmation was also difficult to avoid. Thus, the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods has become the main development direction of tourism resource evaluation methods. The advantages and disadvantages of the various methods are shown in Table 5, which can provide a reference for AHT evaluation research in the future.
Table 5 The advantages and disadvantages of each evaluation method
Method Advantages Disadvantages
AHP method Easy to evaluate; has a wide application range Strong subjectivity
Single technical index analysis Strong pertinence; easy to classify the evaluation objects Difficult to evaluate complex research objects; high requirements for technicians
GIS/ remote sensing Visual display of results; distinguishes the differences between different regions Need proficiency for GIS or remote sensing; difficult to obtain the data
Monetary value method Ability to quantify resources in monetary terms; able to classify and evaluate use value and non-use value The error of the results fluctuates greatly
Principal component analysis Simplified evaluation structure High requirements for data quality
Fuzzy mathematics method Discussion can be classified according to different research objectives High correlation degree of evaluation index, which can easily cause repeated evaluation
Grey evaluation method Low sample quantity requirements Difficult to handle large volumes of data
Entropy weight method High accuracy High requirements for data quality; difficult to evaluate non-material resources
Artificial neural network
Has self-learning function; able to find optimal solutions at high
Need proficiency for programming technology

4 Discussion

The concept of agri-cultural heritage based on a systems perspective was introduced relatively late. However, after more than a decade of development, agri-cultural heritage tourism has become widely recognized as one of the most important ways of achieving the dynamic conservation of agri-cultural heritage (Min, 2020). As a specific type of heritage tourism, the concept of AHT is also dynamic and has varied over time. In earlier studies, researchers were less aware of the content of their resource evaluation due to a more ambiguous understanding of the connotations of agri-cultural heritage. As a result, some of the studies confused the difference between “heritage resources” and “heritage site resources”, which also caused an inability to fully exploit the unique value of AHS in the process of using tourism resources. The reasons for this phenomenon are manifold. On the one hand, as the value of agri-cultural heritage has a certain complexity, the process of resource evaluation and development needs to take into account the interest points of tourists, and fully explore the value of the heritage itself, which also places high demands on the evaluation and use of tourism resources. On the other hand, agri-cultural heritage resources have a limited appeal and must be combined with other resources within the heritage site to enrich and enhance the overall experience of the tourists.
As the influence of agri-cultural heritage expands, scholars are recognizing the special features of the relationship between tourism and agriculture in the evolution of the AHT. The essence of agri-cultural heritage is an agri-production system that contains various system elements such as agricultural technology, traditional culture and an agri-cultural landscape. It is the close interrelationship between these elements that creates the agri-cultural heritage (He et al., 2020). Thus, AHT cannot simply be equated with agritourism in either theory or practice. Unlike a static architectural heritage, the features of the AHT that tourists prefer to experience are ancient farming practices, magnificent agricultural landscapes, diverse wildlife and unique agricultural activities. To ensure the sustainability of these tourism attractions, the involvement of farmers is essential. With the participation of farmers, AHT resources are no longer a static activity, but a dynamic, participatory and valuable experience that allows tourists to learn, experience and understand the various AHT resources. Overall, the study of AHT and its definition has made some progress, but a satisfactory concept has not yet been established.
In terms of AHT resource evaluation methods, related research has focused on evaluating tourism resources in heritage sites and then developing them in a sustainable way. The analysis was mainly based on qualitative methods, a number of site-based tourism development routes and models have been designed based on the analysis of the characteristics of specific AHS destinations. During this period, these studies have given a strong boost to the rapid development of local AHTs, and have strongly enhanced the economic benefits of local communities, the livelihoods of residents and the reputation of AHS. Then, more quantitative methods were introduced into the AHT evaluation studies. In particular, many cross-disciplinary methods have brought fresh blood to the relevant research. Methodological innovations have fed into related fundamental theoretical research, and new developments have been made in the conceptual rethinking of AHT evaluations (Sun et al., 2021).
From the perspective of the current research literature, AHS have profound resource endowments and superior conditions, which have the potential to develop a variety of tourism products. Although the number of agri-cultural heritage tourism studies is growing rapidly, there are still misunderstandings about the resources of AHT. Thus, the evaluation of AHT needs to establish a new research paradigm. As a tool for providing dynamic conservation of the AHS, tourism plays a key role in sustainable regional development, local economic growth and ecological security. Due to the interdisciplinary specificity of AHT evaluation, we recommend that future research should be strengthened from the following four perspectives.
(1) The role of stakeholders in the resource evaluation process
Future research needs to pay more attention to the role of stakeholders in the AHT resource development process and take greater account of stakeholder perception, motivation and willingness in the process of resource evaluation. Some studies confirmed that AHS is an adequate tool to conserve agriculture, however, if farmers lack access to improved livelihoods from it, this will significantly reduce the sustainability of the related conservation efforts (Wang et al., 2021). Therefore, the construction of an AHT tourism resource evaluation framework that takes into account the various stakeholders has both theoretical and practical value.
(2) Carrying capacity of AHT resources
The development of AHT resources is not blind and borderless, so both the AHS and the sub-systems within it have certain carrying capacity and boundaries. Due to the impact of the rural revitalization policy in China and the excellent resource endowments of agri-cultural heritage for tourism development, the large number of tourists puts a huge strain on local service facilities, environment and heritage. For agri-cultural heritage sites, tourist management should be built on an ongoing determination of ever-changing capacities and the subsequent application of management for sustainability. Thus, determining a reasonable number of tourist visits is essential for the AHT resource evaluation and adaptive management of heritage sites.
(3) Ecological impact of AHT resource development
As a resource development activity, tourism has a significant ecological impact on AHS. The ecosystem of AHS is complex and fragile. Once the ecology of a traditional agri-production system has been altered by human activities such as the exploitation of tourism resources, recovery is difficult, leading to the degradation of ecological and agri-productive functions. However, there are not many studies on the ecological impact of tourism resource development to date, and the negative impacts of tourism have not been sufficiently studied. Therefore, future related research should be enhanced, taking into account the seasonality of agri-production and the randomness of tourist activities.
(4) Improvements in research methodology
Since AHS is a coupled human-nature system, AHT resource evaluation is no longer the study of a single discipline of tourism management. The current research theory has involved multiple disciplines such as geography, ecology, sociology, environment, landscape, folklore, economics and management. However, in the context of the current research group, the relevant scholars are currently confined to the fields of agriculture and ecology, and there is a lack of interdisciplinary communication and cooperation. The AHS is a complex object of study during a dynamic evolution from multiple perspectives. Thus, it requires creative approaches rather than simple techniques to facilitate the application of scientific methods in the analysis and expression of AHT evaluation methods, particularly in terms of multidisciplinary integration, and the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

5 Conclusions

Based on statistical and scientometric analysis methods, a scientific analysis framework is proposed in this study to capture the basic research progress in the resource evaluation of AHT. This analysis led to four main conclusions. 1) The research literature could be divided into two phases, a development-oriented period (2005-2012) and a conservation-oriented period (2013-2020). In the process of development, the policies of MARA might have played a significant role in promoting the research field, especially for the cognizance of China-NIAHS. 2) GIAHS and China-NIAHS sites accounted for an absolute majority of the research literature. Terraced landscapes and tea culture were very popular among research fields, and Longji Terraces System and Hani Rice Terraces System were the most popular research sites among the IAHS. From the provincial perspective, Yunnan, Zhejiang, Guangxi, Guizhou and Fujian were the most popular among scholars, each with more than 20 articles. 3) Research methods have undergone a shift from qualitative to quantitative, and a combination of the two in an interdisciplinary manner is becoming a new research trend. 4) Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS; Nanjing Agricultural University and Beijing Union University have been the leading force in this research field.


This work was funded partly by the Distinguished Professor Project of Beijing Union University (to Min Qingwen).
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