Domestic tourism booms in Tibet but restrictions on foreign tourists remain

Updated on Sep 18, 2018 10:35 AM IST
The region is not easily accessible for foreigners, who need visitor permits through registered Chinese travel agencies and are almost always part of supervised travel groups.
Tourists visit the Jokhang Monastery, one of the oldest Tibetan monasteries in Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region.(AP File Photo)
Tourists visit the Jokhang Monastery, one of the oldest Tibetan monasteries in Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region.(AP File Photo)
Hindustan Times, Lhasa | BySutirtho Patranobis, Lhasa

As tourism fuelled by domestic visitors booms in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), provincial authorities are looking to encourage sustainable high-quality tourism in a region known for its natural beauty and fragile eco-system.

Making tourism a priority area in Tibet - and a way to alleviate poverty - was in focus at last week’s “China Tibet Tourism and Culture Expo” in Lhasa.

"In terms of policy, projects and funding, we will set up various supporting mechanisms so as to establish tourism as the leading priority industry of the TAR," the region’s chairperson, Qi Zhala, said at beginning of the tourism summit on Saturday.

“The expo is a very good way to promote tourism in Tibet,” Jigme Wangsto, director of the TAR government’s information office told visiting journalists.

“The regional government actively promotes sustainable development of the tourism industry in Tibet and special efforts are made to seek harmony between development and protection,” the TAR government said in a statement

It’s a careful balance that needs to be maintained as tourism numbers are going up.

The region, according to official Xinhua news agency, received a record 25.6 million domestic and foreign tourists in 2017, up 10.6% compared to the previous year.

“Tourism revenue during the year reached 37.9 billion yuan ($5.9 billion), with a year-on-year increase of 14.7%,” the report said.

“Statistics showed that in the first five months of 2018, Tibet received 5.6 million tourists, up 38% year-on-year. Total revenue rose 41.4% to 7.1 billion yuan (about $1.1 billion),” Xinhua reported.

The government also plans to build three new airports to promote tourism and economic growth, it was announced earlier this year. The airports will be in Shannan, Xigaze and Ali, according the regional government and the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

The aim is to attract more than 30 million tourists by 2020.

Much more, however, needs to be done to attract foreign tourists.

The region is not easily accessible for foreigners, who need visitor permits through registered Chinese travel agencies and are almost always part of supervised travel groups. Diplomats and journalists are not allowed to enter TAR without government permits.

Wangtso said policies restricting foreign tourists coming into Tibet were not formulated by the TAR government but by central authorities.

(Hindustan Times was in TAR at the invitation of the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China.)

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