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Riots dampen Tibet tourism
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Taxi driver Shen Lianhe found the only business on the first day back at work after the Lhasa unrest was to take tourists to the railway station.

"They were leaving Tibet," said Shen. "The chaos begins just about the time when tourism starts to revive after the off-season, and now everyone's gone and I don't know when they are coming back."

The 30-odd man is a native of central China's Henan Province and came to Lhasa more than seven years ago, doing his old profession.

Shen said he could earn as much as 600 yuan a day before the March 14, but now he would be lucky if he could cover his car rent of 200 yuan per day.

"But I only earned 50 yuan Tuesday morning and I don't know how much longer I can hang on here without tourists taking my cab," he said.

Shen's pessimism is shared by Wang Jianguo, director with the Xijiao Long Distance Bus Station as the number of passengers to the station in the western suburb of the plateau city has reduced by 50 percent since Saturday.

"We received around 550 passengers from around Tibet and other provinces like Qinghai and Sichuan on Saturday and Sunday each, while the usual number exceeds 1,000 before the riot," Wang said.

"I'm not sure whether tourist numbers will return to normal soon, but personally, I think we have to wait for a while," he said.

Hotels are also facing a hard time.

The Jinhe Hotel in the less-affected western part of Lhasa has seen fewer guests after the unrest.

"Forty-one of our rooms were booked by March 13, but the number has dropped to 14 today. We helped most of our clients take the plane out of the city days after the unrest began,"said Li Wanfa, the hotel manager.

Tour groups are still allowed to travel to Tibet but the region's tourism bureau has suggested they postpone travel plans.

"Tourism facilities around the scenic spots, such as the Jokhang temple, have suffered considerable damage in the riots, lowering the reception capacity," said Wang Songping, deputy director of the Tourism Bureau of Tibet, adding local government had not imposed a ban on travelers to the region.

"So, we suggest travel agencies suspend organizing tourists to come to Tibet."

The riots erupted in the holy city on Friday afternoon. At least 13 people died and rioters set fire to more than 300 locations, including shops, homes, banks, government offices, and smashed and burned 56 vehicles, mainly in downtown Lhasa.

For tourists who travel to the plateau region by themselves, Wang suggested they could go to others places in Tibet first before going to Lhasa.

"Of course, this would affect Tibet's tourism to a certain extent, but it's only a temporary thing," said Wang.

"March is never the tourism peak season for Tibet. If the situation remain stable, we are very optimistic of fulfilling the goal we set for year 2008, that is, to receive 5.5 million tourists this year," he said.

Tibet received 4 million tourists from both home and abroad in 2007, up 60 percent from 2006. The tourism revenue reached 4.8 billion yuan (677 million U.S. dollars), accounting for more than 14 percent of the region's gross domestic products. The remote southwestern region has seen a tourism boom in the past few years, especially since the Qinghai-Tibet railway began operation in July 2006.

(Xinhua News Agency, March 19, 2008)

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