Arrivals in Tibet surge - along with complaints over poor management

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am

A surge in the number of visitors heading to Tibet last month with the opening of the rail line to Lhasa was accompanied by an increase in travellers' complaints about poor tourism management in the region.

According to the Tibet Tourism Administration (TTA), travellers made more than 390,000 trips to the western region in July, a 50 per cent year-on-year increase, mainly thanks to the launch of passenger services on the Qinghai-Tibet rail line on July 1.

About 16,700 trips were made by overseas nationals and 374,000 by domestic visitors.

Tourism revenue rose by 43.7 per cent year on year during the month to 435 million yuan, including US$9.78 million in foreign exchange.

Amid the travel boom, local authorities have been flooded with complaints about rail ticket arrangements, limits on visitors to the Potala Palace, and soaring accommodation and inter-region transport costs.

TTA deputy director Zha Nuo told state media on Sunday that the authority had received dozens of complaints about travel agencies in Tibet and Qinghai failing to issue tickets on time.

'Railway authorities cancelled tour group tickets, which forced many people to pull out of the groups and resulted in huge losses for travel agencies in July,' Mr Zha Nuo said.

Officials stopped selling group tickets last month after the revelation that travel agencies were scalping tickets for inflated prices. But the decision to cut group tours did not make travel to the plateau more accessible for the public.

Zhang Qiaoming , a 30-year-old office clerk, said he spent four days in Xining , Qinghai, last month trying to buy a ticket to Tibet. Once there, he had to wait two days to enter the Potala Palace, Lhasa's premier world heritage site.

Mr Zha Nuo said: 'The short supply of tickets for the palace is not a new problem, but it has become worse with the operation of the line.'

The TTA official said the palace had raised the maximum number of visitors allowed every day from 1,500 to 2,300 and extended opening hours, but still could not meet the demand. 'The problem will remain for a long time because we must impose a visitor limit to protect the palace,' he said.

Visitors also complained about soaring accommodation and local transport prices, the administration said. The Tibet Development and Reform Commission has vowed to maintain 'price stability' and crack down on irregularities.

'There has been an average 10 to 15 per cent price rise in hotel accommodation recently and the occupancy rate is more than 90 per cent. This is natural. We will keep a close watch and ensure there are no big increases in catering, accommodation or transport prices,' a Tibet reform commission official said.

Wu Bihu , dean of the recreation and tourism research centre at Peking University, said local authorities needed more support to better manage tourism.

'Though they are psychologically prepared for a boom, their management abilities may lag behind. If training courses are provided and government co-ordination is good, a balanced supply-and-demand situation will appear in one or two years,' Professor Wu said.