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Tibet's tourism recovering from riots

Tourism in Tibet has been undergoing a slow but steady revival since the riot in the autonomous region's capital Lhasa last March, local officials said yesterday.


Only 2.28 million tourists visited Tibet last year, a 44-percent year-on-year drop. And tourism revenue was also halved from 4.8 billion yuan ($702 million) in 2007 to about 2.25 billion yuan last year, deputy director of the Tibet tourism bureau Yu Yungui told China Daily on the sidelines of a media trip organized by the State Council Information Office.


Champa Kesang, director of the management committee of the iconic Potala Palace, also said the palace received about 830,000 tourists and pilgrims last year, down 27 percent year-on-year.


Yu said one cause of the sharp fall was the violence in Lhasa on March 14 last year, which raised concerns about the region's social stability.


The sector also suffered from the earthquake that devastated neighboring Sichuan province last May. Sichuan is a transit point for many visitors to Tibet, Yu said.


Buddhists tithe at Potala Palace in Lhasa yesterday. [China Daily]

However, improved stability and local tourism bureaus' campaigns had led to an increase in tourism to Tibet in the second half of 2008.


"In November and December - traditionally the low season for Tibet's tourism - we saw a 20-percent increase in tourists compared to the same period in 2007, thanks to the promotion of winter travel to Tibet," Yu said.


Yu said Tibet always welcomes foreign tourists, but for the consideration of their health and safety, they may be required to take group tours.


"But there's no limit on the number of tourists in a group. Even if there's only one visitor, he or she can form a group with a travel agency," Yu said.


To better preserve and develop the local culture, the autonomous region's government will also allocate 25 million yuan this year to various projects.


"We're confident we'll see tourists pouring in this year," he said.


Local officials and religious figures said it is unlikely any riot comparable to that of March 14 will take place this spring.


"After the riot, more and more Tibetan people realized stability is a blessing and unrest is a disaster," Nyima Tsering, vice-chairman of the Tibet people's congress standing committee, told a press conference on Tuesday night.


Drukang Thupten Kedrup, head of the Tibet branch of the Buddhist Association of China, told reporters: "Separatist (movements) cannot win the support of the Tibetan people. I hope the Dalai Lama can do something truly beneficial for the people."


The media group, with 19 reporters from 11 media organizations, including those from the US, Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, is on a four-day trip in Tibet.


After two days in Lhasa talking with local officials, religious figures and residents, the group will head for the Shanan prefecture today to visit temples and villages.


During the trip, reporters showed great interest in Tibet's development, social stability, religious affairs and culture preservation.


Mark Chisholm, a cameraman with the Reuters, said he was very happy to be allowed to shoot the interior part of the Potala Palace.


"I've been here before and was not allowed to shoot that. That's great file for us," he said.


(China Daily February 12, 2009)