China pushes for tourism in Tibet, critics fear end of Tibetan culture

Tibet is fast becoming a tourist favorite, but who will take credit for its successes? Pic: Dennis Jarvis/flickr

TIBET is experiencing a tourism boom at the moment, with over 24 million visitors expected to register by the end of the year. The number is up six times from four million in 2007.

Tourism accounts for about 27 percent or 28 million yuan (about US$4.2 million) of Tibet’s economy, and residents of the autonomous region have benefited from the new revenues over the past few years.

Shi Yuhui, deputy director of the region’s tourism development commission, said, “We largely improved our tourism infrastructure to face the rising number of tourists, and the boom also encouraged a large number of residents to participate in the tourism industry.”

Shi added that the growth in Tibet’s tourism will aid residents out of poverty. The tourism industry currently creates 320,000 jobs.

Wang Songping, the deputy director of the Tibet Tourism Development Commission, said that tourism has become the most important economic sector of Tibet.

However, China wants a hand in Tibet’s success. Recently, the luxury Artel hotel was launched in Tibet, signifying China’s plans for the territory.

Natural landscapes like this are reasons more tourists want to explore the region. Pic: Dennis Jarvis/flickr

The hotel overlooks the snow-capped Himalayan mountains and a night at the presidential suite can set you back about US$1,000.

Wang added that to cater to more affluent tourists, Tibet has attracted international hotel chains such as InterContinental and St Regis, and is aiming to build an additional 10 five-star hotels by 2020.

Amid new developments, critics say the influx will lead to more of China’s dominant Han ethnic group settling in Tibet and eroding native Tibetan ways of life, and argue the majority of economic benefits of mass tourism will not go to locals.

Beijing says it “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951 and insists it has brought development to a previously backward region where serfs were exploited.

But many Tibetans accuse Beijing of repressing their religion, diluting their culture, and exploiting natural resources to benefit the Han at the expense of locals and the environment.

The majority of tourists that enter Tibet are Chinese, as foreigners can only enter the region through foreign air connection in Nepal.