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Tibet to Reopen to Foreign Tourists

April 29, 2008

By JASON LEOW
The Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2008

BEIJING -- Chinese authorities, increasingly worried that a lack of
tourism is hurting Tibet's economy, have announced that they plan to let
foreign tourists back into Tibet.

Tibet has been shut to outsiders since Lhasa erupted in violence on
March 14 and unrest spread to neighboring regions with heavy Tibetan
populations. Parts of China's southwestern Sichuan province, where there
have been numerous incidents of unrest, have also been closed off and
there are no plans yet to re-open them to foreigners, according to an
official from Sichuan's tourism bureau.

Tibet's tourism officials, who began allowing Chinese tourists to return
last week, say foreigners will be let in shortly after May 1 but didn't
specify an exact date.

"The situation has about returned to normal but the potential safety
hazard hasn't been entirely eliminated. That's why we're taking in
domestic tourists before we will start receiving foreign tourists in the
near future," says Zhanor, deputy director of Tibet's regional tourism
bureau.

Travel agents appear miffed at the lack of clarity on the rules. Many
want to capitalize on the three-day break for Labor Day that begins
Thursday, when Chinese tourists -- and foreigners residing in China --
are expected to make short trips across the country.

Tibet China Travel Service, one of the biggest Tibet-bound operators in
the country, says it started booking tours for Chinese tourists several
days ago but hasn't been allowed to service foreigners. "It's tourist
season but we haven't heard from the regional tourism bureau when we can
take overseas tourists," says Yi Yang, an employee.

Even with tourism partly restored, Tibetan authorities fear they won't
be able to fulfill this year's target for tourist arrivals, a problem
likely to dent the tourism-reliant local economy. Tibet's tourism
revenue last year formed 14% of its gross domestic product, according to
the Xinhua News Agency.

During last year's May holiday, close to 340,000 tourists, or 8% of
annual arrivals, visited Tibet. The region earned about $19 million, or
about $3 million a day, from May 1 to 7, which was how long Labor Day
break lasted before the central government shortened it this year under
a new public holiday schedule. The government has added new holidays for
the year but has made Labor Day a three-day break.

"We were hoping to achieve a target of five million tourists this year
but now it's hard to say if we can even meet last year's target," Mr.
Zhanor said. Official numbers show about four million tourists visited
Tibet last year, up 60% from 2006.

Elsewhere, parts of Sichuan province that were closed after unrest
spread there in the wake of the Lhasa riots on March 14 remain out of
bounds to foreigners, though Chinese citizens have never been barred
from those areas, according to an official named Ms. Fan from the
provincial tourism bureau.

Some highly popular scenic spots that are inside banned areas, such as
Huanglong valley and Jiuzhaigou, will remain open to foreigners, though
they won't be allowed to travel beyond these spots, she says. Foreign
reporters have also been banned from the region as authorities have
struggled to contain unrest in heavily Tibetan areas.

Sichuan's tourism officials are waiting to hear from the national
tourism administration, which oversees the country's tourism businesses,
on when the other areas in the province can open up, Ms. Fan says. "The
riots have had a big impact on us. We have requested several times for
the province to be reopened to foreign tourists and are just waiting for
a reply," she says.

Write to Jason Leow at jason.leow@wsj.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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