In developing countries in tropical regions, the poorest segments of the rural population often rely on forests for survival. The creation of off-farm jobs in the tourism sector, construction or manufacturing has been suggested as a potential way to alleviate pressure on tropical forests. Using Sa Pa district as a case study, we evaluated the coupling of human and forest dynamics. The district was opened for international tourism in 1993, which had a large impact on daily life in Sa Pa town and its surrounding communities. Analysis of land cover change for the period 1993–2014, using high-resolution satellite images from three timeperiods and an analysis of covariance, detected possible associations between forest cover change and socio-economic, cultural and biophysical variables at the village level. Between 1993 and 2006, Sa Pa district experienced a net decrease of forest in favour of arable land, while this
trend was reversed in the period 2006–2014. However, trends at district level mask substantial heterogeneity at village level. Results show that deforestation is considerably lower in villages that are strongly involved in tourism activities. Marginal agricultural fields with low productivity are also preferentially abandoned. Because of diversification in alternative economic activities, rural households may become less dependent on natural resources and agricultural products for their survival. These results suggest that the creation of off-farm income sources activities can be a driver of shifts in human–environment interactions, as new livelihood strategies can offset the pressure on forested land.