The Tibet autonomous region is expected to receive a record 10-million-plus tourists this year, a local tourism official said on Monday.
These visitors will bring revenue of 12 billion yuan (US$1.89 billion), equal to 17 percent of the region's GDP, said Yu Yungui, head of the region’s tourism bureau.
Yu said more than 7 million domestic and foreign tourists visited Tibet from January to August, a year-on-year increase of more than 25 percent. Tourism revenue in the past eight months jumped 30 percent year-on-year to 7.5 billion yuan.
Yu attributed the surge to tour activities organized this year that feature Tibetan culture and scenic beauty. Extensive advertising and various festivals, such as the Tibetan New Year, have also helped attract tourists, he said.
Shang Ao made a three-week driving tour from Guangdong province to Tibet in September 2011. "It was a soul-cleansing experience," he said. "In spite of the harsh living conditions, residents showed heartfelt happiness and content."
After his return, Shang launched an online campaign for donations of clothing and school supplies to remote areas of Tibet. Many Internet users have made donations.
The surge in tourism has changed the lives of many Tibetan women because they are more engaged in their household’s earning activities, such as running home inns and restaurants or selling souvenirs. Tibetan women used to focus on domestic affairs only, said Tsering Yangzom, a professor of women’s studies at Tibet University.
She has accompanied many colleagues and friends from abroad and other regions in China on tours around Lhasa. Many women used to sell souvenirs near major tourist sites, such as the Jokhang Temple. They can speak Mandarin and English to bargain with foreigners, Tsering Yangzom said.
Nowadays these highly mobile vendors have been reduced because of tighter restrictions. "Some vendors were too aggressive and badgered tourists to buy souvenirs. My foreign friends didn’t like such aggressive behavior," she said.
As the tourism industry in Tibet grows, the services should stay in pace, Tsering Yangzom said, adding that tourist guides should have a deeper understanding of Tibetan culture and traditions.
She once heard a guide make up a "legend" about a "holy" fruit on a tree outside the Potala Palace.
"It was just an ordinary tree. We don’t have to refer to everything as holy in Tibet. It’s counterproductive to deceive and tell lies to attract tourists," she said.
Xu Qiang, 31, has worked as a travel agent in Lhasa since 2004, serving about 500 visitors a year. After the busy season, from April to September, he goes back to live with his family in Chongqing.
Xu said his clients are mainly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, while some were fromMalaysia and Singapore.
Foreigners and residents of Taiwan must obtain special permits to enter Tibet in advance and need to hire a local travel agent to handle the process, Xu said.
In the case of the foreigners, the agent submits copies of their passport and visa to visit China and an itinerary in Tibet to the tourism bureau.
The process can take from two to 15 days, depending on various factors such as the itinerary. If border areas are included in the travel plan, border protection authorities’ approval is needed, and that takes more time, Xu said.
Since the Qinghai-Tibet Railway became fully operational in 2006, Xu has seen a surge in tourists to Tibet.
Nearly 300,000 people in the region are employed in the tourism sector with fixed assets exceeding 25 billion yuan, according to government figures.
Tibet is situated on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, an area predominantly populated by ethnic Tibetans. Signature tourist destinations include the world’s highest peak Mount Qomolangma, the sacred lake Nam Co and Tibetan Buddhist heritage sites such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and the Zhaxi Lhunbo Monastery.
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