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Train to Tibet Brings in Investment
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A year after the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Songtsen Gyalzur believes it's time to invest in a five-star hotel in his hometown.


The proposed site of the six-million-US-dollar project is close to the railway station in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa. "The railway has created favorable conditions and I feel the time is ripe to make the investment," said the 34-year-old Tibetan who grew up in Switzerland.


Songtsen Gyalzur said he weighed the risks of investment in a previous visit to Lhasa seven years ago. "I dropped the plan when I saw there were no trains and very few tourist arrivals at the only airport in Lhasa."


The 2006 inauguration of the 1,142-kilometer railway linking Lhasa with Golmud in neighboring Qinghai Province has reignited his desire to invest in his ancestral home.


"I've witnessed great changes in Tibet this time," he said. "With more tourists coming, there's a stronger demand for better accommodation."


The railway has brought an influx of tourists, more than 2.5 million last year, including 154,800 from overseas. They spent 2.77 billion yuan in the region.


This year Tibet expects to host three million tourists bringing in 3.4 billion yuan, according to the development and reform commission of the Tibet autonomous regional government.


"The railway has not just linked Tibet with the rest of China, but also aroused our strong desire to return to China and make an investment," said Songtsen Gyalzur, board chairman of Generalista AG, a Swiss company working on worldwide real estate and construction projects.


He also plans to set up a Lhasa branch of his company, which has operations in Thailand, Austria and Italy.


Thanks to the railway, Tibet received four billion yuan (US$513 million) of domestic and overseas investment last year, said He Benyun, vice director of the regional development and reform commission.


The amount was close to the total of the previous five years, which amounted to 5.1 billion yuan (US$656 million) between 2001 and 2005, he said.


Since the opening of the railway on July 1, 2006, Tibet has approved the establishment of 20 overseas-funded businesses, bringing in 34.34 million U.S. dollars of contractual investment.


The regional government said the investment has largely gone into tourism, hotels, trade, the food and beverage and pharmacy industries.


"In a year or two, Lhasa will have four or five five-star hotels," said Zhang Bifang, vice director of the city's investment promotion bureau. "Nepalese and Indian businesses have invested in carpet plants here and KFC is planning to open outlets on the plateau."


A 15,000-square-meter area close to the Lhasa railway station has been leveled for the new hotel, which is to adopt traditional Tibetan styles on the exterior, but European-style furnishings within. "We'll employ Tibetans to fill most of the jobs."


Amid international concern over Tibet's pristine ecosystems, Songtsen Gyalzur said he would give top priority to environment protection. "The hotel will be surrounded with green."


He described the railway as a feat that amazed many of his Swiss friends.


"The opening of the railway caught the attention of all Tibetans living in Switzerland," said his mother Damzhin Gyalzur. "Many are keen on a train ride back to their hometown."


At 54, Damzhin Gyalzur runs an orphanage on the western outskirts of Lhasa. Established in 1993, it is home to nearly 200 Tibetan orphans.


The 4.1-billion-US-dollar Qinghai-Tibet railway stretches 1,956 km from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, to Lhasa. The section of 814 km from Xining to Golmud opened in 1984 and construction of the Golmud-Lhasa section started on June 29, 2001.


(Xinhua News Agency June 28, 2007)



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