Foreign tour groups sign up to visit Tibet

created: 2009-04-01

Tibet will allow overseas visitors starting April 5 after a month-long suspension, a tourism official in Lhasa has said.

"Tibet will start receiving foreign tourists as of April 5, and they will be warmly welcomed," Bachug, head of the Tibet tourism administration, told the Xinhua News Agency on Sunday.

"Foreign tourists were stopped from entering Tibet during March for safety reasons," Bachug said.

Tibet, which until half a century ago was ruled by a theocratic regime, celebrated its first Serfs' Emancipation Day on Saturday.

March 14 also marked the first anniversary of riots by the Dalai Lama's followers in the region's capital Lhasa, which left 18 civilians dead.

"There is no reason to worry Tibet is safe now," Bachug said.

"Travel agencies, tourist resorts and hotels are well prepared to receive foreign guests," he said, adding that "as usual, foreign tourists can visit Tibet only with organized tour groups".

So far, more than 100 foreign tour groups have registered to visit Tibet this year, he said.

An earlier Xinhua report said Tibet was entering "the best season for travel and will see a big increase in tourism" starting April.

The local tourism bureau estimates that tourists will increase by at least 30 percent from previous months.

Tourism has witnessed a boom since the launch of "tour Tibet in winter" by the bureau last year. In the first two months this year, the region reported a significant rise in the number of visitors, as many went there for the Spring Festival as well as the Tibetan New Year.

With more than 300 scenic spots, tourism is experiencing a slow but steady revival since the Lhasa riots last March and the catastrophic earthquake that hit its neighboring Sichuan province in May.

Only 2.28 million tourists visited last year, a drop of 44 percent year-on-year. Tourism revenue was also halved from 4.8 billion yuan ($702 million) in 2007 to about 2.25 billion yuan last year, according to Yu Yungui, deputy director of the tourism bureau.

Lhasa's iconic Potala Palace received 830,000 tourists and pilgrims in 2008, down 27 percent year-on-year, Champa Kesang, the bureau's management chief, said.

(China Hospitality News)

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