Region to reopen doors to tourists on May 1

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2008, 12:00am


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Tibet will reopen to tourists on May 1 after a six-week lockdown triggered by the deadly riots in its capital Lhasa , the regional tourism authority said yesterday.

The once-popular destination has become deserted since violence broke out on March 14. The riots were preceded by days of peaceful demonstrations by Tibetan monks.

Beijing said 18 civilians were killed and hundreds of shops and government offices damaged. The Tibetan government-in-exile has put the death toll at 140.

The unrest has dealt a big blow to the region's economy, which relies heavily on tourism, with Lhasa one of the mainland's most attractive holiday destinations. Each year, millions of tourists flock to the city to see sights such as the Potala and Norbulinka palaces - the Potala being the former residential palace of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Many ancient temples and monasteries have been closed since the rioting. Tour groups were put on hold, and the authorities refused to allow visitors in for fear of new unrest.

'The March 14 riots have damaged Lhasa's economy badly and the tourism industry was the first to bear the brunt,' said Wang Xiangming , Lhasa's deputy party secretary.

While the government now says it is ready to welcome back tourists on May 1, it is not clear if all the sites will be reopened.

'The tourism industry is Lhasa's pillar industry, as well as one of its most fragile,' the vice-director of the regional tourism bureau, Sun Yongping , was quoted saying in the newspaper Tibet Commerce.

Lhasa alone saw 2.7 million domestic and international tourists arrive last year. This year it expects the figure to rise 22 per cent to 3.3 million.

Tourism authorities are considering tax breaks and other forms of financial relief for the beleaguered industry.

Sangdi, a Tibetan taxi driver in Lhasa, said he had had no customers last month. Normally, he would make at least two excursion trips at this time of year and make about 13,000 yuan (HK$14,444) from each. The future is looking just as bad, as he has received no reservations for this month and next.

'April and May are usually the busiest months. But so far I have had only a few people calling to ask whether it is safe to go to Tibet. No one has booked a car,' he said.

Edith Tsang Yeung Mee-kuen, deputy general manager of Hong Kong travel agency Morning Star, said the company would organise tours to Lhasa and other cities in Tibet once the region was reopened. Although the company had had to cancel tour groups since the lockdown, she said only a few visitors had been affected because it was low season.

Alcuin Li Wai-keung, general manager of Sunflower Travel, said the company had cancelled four tour groups, involving about 100 travellers, since the middle of last month.

Big attraction

The number of people employed, directly or indirectly, by tourism in Tibet : 140,000