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Tibet Open to Tourists

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/06/05; June 5, 2001.]

Independent
5 June 2001

Tibet is about to open wide the doors of tourism. The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, has announced that Tibet will receive about 5.6 million tourists in the next five years. The Tibet Tourism Bureau says 136,100 foreign tourists visited Tibet last year, an increase of 37.1 per cent on 1999. The board has promised to turn Tibet into a tourism paradise by improving infrastructure and simplifying procedures for trekkers.

Independent travel is forbidden in Tibet. All foreign tourists must apply to the board for an alien's travel permit. "There has certainly been an increase in domestic and international tourism into Tibet," says Jane Caple of the Tibet Information Network, an independent news service. "It is something the [Chinese] Government wants to push. It believes that tourism should become a pillar industry.

"The common perception among the Chinese used to be that Tibet was a backward, inhospitable, dirty region, but it is now being seen as an interesting and spiritual holiday destination."

The building of the world's highest railway, from Qinghai province to Lhasa, due to be completed in about six years is, however, causing concern. The 1115km railway line is intended to cross the Himalayas, with most of the track at an altitude of more than 3962m.

Caple believes it will have a huge impact on Tibet. "The region would be linked to the Chinese economy. Already Tibetans are concerned about increased immigration of ethnic Han Chinese and the exploitation of natural resources, both of which will be facilitated by the railway." Tibetans are a minority in their homeland.

Caple says the Dalai Lama does not believe tourism to Tibet should be discouraged. "He says it would lead to a greater understanding of Tibet. But there is a risk that Tibetan culture will be frozen as a tourist attraction rather than a living culture."


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