The Tibet tourism office in Shanghai is encouraging people to delay trips to Lhasa until September and October when the busy summer season ends. They're also advising people to book group tours as prices are cheaper and schedules better.
"You cannot get into the Potala Palace if you're more than one hour late," said Liu Bihong, spokeswoman for the Tibet Tourism Bureau Shanghai Office. She returned from Lhasa last week.
Her office recently canceled a Tibetan-style wedding show that would have recommended spots in Tibet for honeymooners. "We felt the timing wasn't good at the moment," Liu said. "The event is postponed indefinitely."
Since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on July 1 tourists from across the country have swarmed to the remote region. Earlier media reports said Tibet had 301,000 tourists in the first 20 days of July, which is a 50-percent increase year-on-year.
But getting there is only the first step. According to returnees from Tibet, the Potala Palace, normally an essential part of people's itineraries in Lhasa, has tightened personal identity and security checks.
"It took us three hours to get into the palace but it turned out the wait wasn't worthwhile," said Shanghai tourist Lu Qiang. "In Lhasa I felt as though the clock was ticking all the time. On several occasions the guards in the palace were telling our guide to speed up." The Potala Palace allows up to 2,300 tourists to visit daily.
"But elsewhere in Tibet it wasn't so crowded," Lu added and conceded that generally the trip has been wonderful.
To ensure entry to the Potala Palace tourists need to pick up an entry permit 24 hours prior to their visit. Permits are available at the palace's ticket booth provided you have valid identification. When visiting the palace you simply exchange the permit for a ticket. Admission costs 100 yuan (US$12.5) per person.
Lhasa's 10,000 hotel rooms are rarely vacant, Liu Bihong said. She emphasized that reservations were necessary.
(Shanghai Daily August 14, 2006)