While the number of tourists flocking to Tibet are expected to increase significantly, their presence will not have a big unfavorable impact on the local environment, a senior official of the Tibet Autonomous Region said Tuesday.
Qiangba Punco, chairman of the regional government, said at a news conference that the operation of the Qinghai-Tibet railway will make tourism a pillar industry for Tibet.
The 1,956-km-long Qinghai-Tibet railway, which went into operation last Saturday, links Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province and Lhasa, regional capital of Tibet. It is the first railway to connect Tibet with other parts of China.
After the operation of the railway, Tibet will see a daily inflow of about 5,000 people, including 3,000 to 4,000 by train, according to the regional tourism bureau.
"Tourism is itself a non-polluting industry," said Qiangba Punco. "It helps drive other industries and has little impact on the ecology."
People who come to Tibet by train are mostly tourists or businessmen, and few of them will reside here, so they will not change the permanent population of Tibet or put much pressure on the environment, he said.
The central government will invest 38.7 billion yuan (about US$4.8 billion) to build nature reserves, protect forests and prevent soil erosion, said Qiangba Punco.
"The Tibetan people have been living here for generations, and we will protect this land just as we take care of our eyes," said Qiangba Punco.
In 2005, Tibet received some 1.8 million tourists, which created a revenue of nearly 2 billion yuan (US$250 million) for Tibet. The annual number of tourists to Tibet is expected to exceed 5 million in 2010.
(Xinhua News Agency July 5, 2006)