Tibet to reopen for tour groups

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am

Tibet will be open to tour groups from Hong Kong and Taiwan from Thursday for the first time since the deadly unrest in Lhasa last month, Xinhua said yesterday.

Lhasa tour guide Zhu Feng said Tibet's tourism authorities had called an urgent meeting of travel agency heads in Lhasa on Tuesday night to brief them about the changes.

'They were notified by officials that entry to Tibet would resume for mainlanders the next day, while group tours are available for Hong Kong and Taiwan people from May 1,' Mr Zhu said yesterday.

'For Hong Kong people [with a home return permit] planning to come [to Lhasa] by themselves, we are still not sure what the arrangements are. But according to my boss, who attended the meeting, it is better for them to come after May 10.'

No one at the meeting mentioned when people from other countries would be allowed to resume travel to the Himalayan region.

The Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News said tourists needed to register their names when they bought train tickets to Lhasa.

Xinhua said Tibet was ridding itself of the adverse influence of the 'March 14 incident' and was enjoying a rebound in tourism. But an agent at another travel agency disagreed with that assessment, saying Lhasa 'was as tranquil and peaceful as outsiders thought'.

'As far as I know, independent Hong Kong travellers must have prior permission issued by the Lhasa Public Security Department to enter the city,' the agent said.

'People coming in on group tours are also required to pass a series of complicated assessments and approvals set up by the municipal police.'

The agent said the March 14 unrest had badly affected business and the industry was suffering as a result.

Tourists across the board have been barred from entering Tibet since last month's unrest, in which Beijing said 18 civilians were killed. The Tibetan government in exile claimed dozens of Tibetans had been killed under the subsequent military crackdown.

Daniel Chan Kin-pang, deputy general manager of Hong Tai Travel Services, said the agency was organising a Lhasa-bound tour group for May 24 or 25.

'I heard of the new measure roughly two weeks ago, but it's a bit too early to estimate or comment on our potential customers' response,' Mr Chan said yesterday.