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Riots won't dampen Tibet's tourism industry
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Lhasa's tourism industry will reopen to visitors on May 1, the government of the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region said yesterday.

With the restoration of social order, people involved in the tourism industry are regaining confidence in the future.

"My booth was attacked in the riot. It hasn't been rebuilt yet. But for now, my main concern is the lack of tourists," said Hu Xiaona, a young woman who sells souvenirs in Lhasa.

About 900 shops were destroyed during the riots. Tourist numbers have plunged, many hotel rooms are unoccupied and the entire catering business is depressed.

Tourism is the backbone of Tibet's economy, contributing some 10 percent of the region's total GDP. In 2007, the opening of Qinghai-Tibet Railway gave a further boost to the tourism sector, which netted a total income of more than 4.8 billion yuan (around US$684 million).

On March 26, Lhasa reopened its landmark Potala Palace to the world. As the most famous tourist attraction in Tibet, the palace once received tens of thousands of tourists annually. It used to restrict visitor numbers during the seven-day "golden week" holidays. Since the riots, however, visitors to the palace have been few and far between.

"People don't dare visit Lhasa right now. That's the main reason for the current problems," said Wang Jianguo, director of Lhasa Xijiao Bus Station.

Last week, the Tibet Tourism Bureau told travel agencies nationwide to stop all trips to Tibet and many pre-arranged tours had to be cancelled.

Jano, vice director of the tourism bureau, said the restrictions were put in place temporarily because of concerns about tourists' personal safety. With the restoration of order, Tibet will reopen in a peaceful and orderly manner.

"This week, a growing number of tourists arrived at Lhasa by bus. Many of them were independent travelers," said bus station director Wang.

Zheng Tianyong, head of Lhasa's Shangbala Hotel, felt sure the government would help them recover from the depression. "Tibet's tourism industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. The unrest hasn't affected our faith in the future," he said.

Currently, about 80 percent of the shops damaged in the riots have reopened for business and the government is working on more measures to boost tourism.

"Although only a small number of people are making trips to Tibet now, I am confident the region will soon recover," said Guo Jun, a Beijing-based travel agent. "With its long history, rich culture and unique landscapes, Tibet will always be a top destination for both Chinese and foreign tourists."

(China.org.cn by Chen Xia, April 3, 2008)


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