Join our Mailing List

"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibet under strain as visitors surpass locals

January 21, 2008

Number of tourists rises 60% in year to 4m: New rail and air links put
pressure on infrastructure
David Stanway , Beijing
14 January 2008
The Guardian

The number of tourists who visited Tibet last year soared by 60%,
outnumbering the people who live there and putting further pressure on
Tibet's overwhelmed roads, palaces and monasteries.

Four million tourists visited the thinly populated Himalayan region of
2.8 million people in 2007, China's state news agency Xinhua reported

"This is the first time that the number of tourist arrivals exceeded the
total population," said Matt Whitticase, of the Free Tibet Campaign.
"Tourism is obviously a pillar of China's western development strategy
but it is putting unacceptable strains on Tibet's fragile environment."

Despite the construction of airports and a rail link from the capital,
Lhasa, to Xining in neighbouring Qinghai province, Tibet's tourist
sector ran 775 tour buses to cope with the influx, Xinhua said. The rail
link, which opened in 2006, cuts across nearly 1,250 miles of rugged
plateaus and high-altitude permafrost and carries more than 11.5 million
tourists into Tibet a year, as well as around three-quarters of total
freight in and out of the region.

Last year, a third civil airport was built in Nyingchi, and a fourth is
planned in Nagari, which will be the highest in the world.

Local authorities said that tourism would generate about 4.8bn yuan
(pounds 340m) for the whole of 2007, up 73% from the previous year, but
that is a fraction of the potential. The number of tourists is still
less than a 10th of those visiting the province of Yunnan on Tibet's
southern border, officials say.

Tourism already accounts for about 9% of Tibet's gross domestic product,
and exploiting the region's cultural allure is the cornerstone of
government efforts to integrate Tibet with China and stimulate the
region's primarily rural economy.

The government says the tourist surge will also help to generate the
income necessary to protect Tibet's ancient monuments and ways of life.
But Whitticase said the Tibetans themselves were not benefiting.
"Tibetans are being left behind and the tourist industry is being run by
Han Chinese companies not domiciled in Tibet," he said.

There are concerns that the region's culture is being "swamped" by
China's majority Han population. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled
spiritual leader, has accused the Chinese government of committing
"cultural genocide", and warned that the fragile environment of Tibet is
being put under threat, causing problems not just in Tibet, but in
India, Bangladesh and China itself, which depend on the Himalayan
plateaus for their water supplies.

Critics also say that China has not taken into consideration the
infrastructure required to support the huge number of visitors. It has
also concentrated on "high-impact tourism", Whitticase said, with
millions descending on a few attractions, including Lhasa's Potala
palace, which is surrounded by traffic and urban sprawl.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank