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Tibet's tourism sees recovery in golden April

Tibetan tour guide Nyima took an early morning train to Beijing Friday to accompany an American tour group to Lhasa.

The 27 teachers from the United States are the third foreign tour group Nyima has received since April 1.

"In April last year I received six foreign groups in total," he said. "This year the number will at least double."

Nyima said he expects a buoyant tour market until fall. "We have reservations for the next six months."

As a result, his Lhasa-based company, Xueyu Pandi Tours, expects a 30-percent increase in revenues this year.

Nyima said social stability is the main reason for the recovery in tourism.

"Last year many people were cautious, fearing the riots of 2008 might reoccur. But this year more people are convinced it's safe to make the trip."

Tibet has around 80 travel services, which are mostly headquartered in Lhasa but have offices at major tourist destinations like Xigaze and Nyingchi.

Most tour operators have clearly felt the recovery in tourism.

"The tours we are offering are largely the same as last year, but we have received at least 30 percent more reservations this year," said Xu Xiaoli, manager with the Tibetan Branch of China Youth Travel Service.

Wang Bing, a photographer from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, which neighbors Tibet, travels to Lhasa almost every year.

"I was surprised to see so many tourists this time," said Wang. "Lhasa's streets were largely deserted this time last year."

Spring and summer are the ideal seasons to tour the Tibetan plateau, which can be stressful for some.

"My wife and sons worry about my health, but I insisted I could make the trip," said Zhao Mingzhu, a 60-something retiree from central Henan Province. "I consulted a doctor before I set out."

Zhao said the trip was "impressive" and "worthwhile". "I never felt this excitement elsewhere in China."

Kangco, who sells traditional Tibetan thangka paintings at a store on Porgor Street, a major commercial street outside the Jokhang Temple, said she has been given hope by the crowds of tourists.

"There hasn't been an immediate increase in business turnover yet, but potential buyers are certainly on the rise," she said. "We have several thousand paintings in store for the forthcoming travel rush."

Last year 5.61 million tourists visited Tibet and the region earned 5.6 billion yuan in tourism revenue, both up nearly 150 percent year on year, respectively, according to the regional tourism administration.

The region is aiming to lure more international tourists as it strives to balance the impact of tourism on the the ecology of the region, the regional government's medium- to long-term plan for local tourism development says.