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May Day tourists bring hope to W China tourism industry 
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A trickle of Chinese tourists began arriving in ethnic Tibetan areas of west China over the May Day holiday, sparking hopes of a revival in the tourism industry after the unrest in March.

The Tourism Administration of Tibet Autonomous Region said about 200 people were expected to come to Tibet in small groups during the three-day holiday. Bigger groups of more than 50 would arrive after May 5 and about 600 visitors were expected around mid-May.

However, the region is still closed to foreign tourists for the foreseeable future.

"We are planning to open Tibet to foreign tourists, but the specific date is not decided yet as the time is not right. However, it will not take long," said Tanor, deputy director of the regional tourism administration.

"More than 20 tourist groups with 200 people will arrive in Tibet during the three-day holiday. The number used to be 5,000 tourists per day last year in May Day Holiday," said Tanor.

Hotel and tour operators were upbeat about the prospects of more guests arriving as the summer drew on.

"Lhasa seems busier and livelier than what I imagined," said Wang Fujun, who was taking photos at the square outside the Potala Palace. Wang arrived in Lhasa on Wednesday from southwest city of Chengdu.

Tibet resumed receiving domestic tourist groups in late April and received its first group on April 24 since the March 14 riot. However, independent Chinese travelers have not been prohibited from entering the region.

Increasing groups and independent tourists visited the holy land since then and the first "May Day Holiday" group arrived on late Wednesday, said Xu Jianmin, manager of the Lhasa Travel Agency.

"We finally received the 32-member group which had been expected for a long time," Xu said. He believed tourism in Lhasa would increase after the May Day Holiday.

Tour bus driver Liu Zhenhu said his business was slowly recovering in the run up to the peak season. "Although the March 14 riot caused great losses, Lhasa is still regarded by tourists as sacred," he said.

The remote Himalayan region has seen a tourism boom, especially since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, which linked Tibet with the rest of China for the first time by train in July 2006.

Tibet received 4 million tourists from home and abroad in 2007,up 60 percent from 2006. Tourism revenue reached 4.8 billion yuan (687 million U.S. dollars), accounting for more than 14 percent of the region's gross domestic product.

Other venerated Buddhist areas, which had been rocked by riots in the southwest Sichuan and the northwest Gansu provinces, also saw an increase in tourists over the second national public holiday since the riot.

"The scenery here is still beautiful and pure," said a young woman who was visiting Larang Monastery, in Xiahe county of GannanTibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Gansu Province.

"We traveled 30 hours on the train and four hours by bus from Zhejiang Province to get here," she said.

The monastery witnessed hundreds of visitors on May 1 after receiving about 10 tourists a day last month.

Half of the rooms in Gannan's Prince Hotel on May 1 were booked, but the hotel had only had one or two guests a day in April, said a receptionist.

Other hotel operators in Gannan were also optimistic.

A manager of the Overseas Chinese Hotel said some tourists had booked rooms last year, but they had only postponed, not canceled, their visits.

At the Xiling Hotel, a receptionist told Xinhua that they were preparing to receive a group from Shanghai.

The Gesanghua Tent Hotel, a family hotel on the grasslands, is ready to receive visitors.

"The number of domestic and overseas tourists used to be large, but it has been affected. I believe it will get better," said ethnic Tibetan manager Sangpa.

At the Baoma Hotel, a receptionist showed a collection of faxes to Xinhua, saying, "You see, many orders for May have come. People are still longing for going to the grasslands and the monastery."

"Tourism revenue at scenic sites in Gannan is down by 80 percent and in some places down by 92 percent," said Cao Shiqing, director of tourism administration of Gannan.

"However, our tourism is reviving. More than 10 tourist groups have visited Gannan before the May Day Holiday," Cao said. "It is quite safe to visit Gannan now."

County head of Xiahe Yang Xiaonan said, "We believe that more tourists will come soon."

The remote county, with a population of 20,000, received more than 500,000 tourists and reported tourism revenue of 108 million yuan (15.4 million U.S dollars) in 2007, Yang said

Tourism accounted for almost 10 percent of Gannan's 370 million yuan in GDP last year with 1.88 million people journeying there.

"Chinese tourists prefer village tours to grasslands and tents, while overseas visitors like to visit monasteries and Tibetan families," said Namgyal, deputy director of the publicity department of Xiahe.

Another group of holidaymakers enjoyed a family party in Maerkang county, in Sichuan's Aba Autonomous Prefecture of Tibetanand Qiang nationalities.

"We have five nationalities -- Tibetan, Han, Qiang, Hui and Manchu -- in our 10 family members and friends here," said Han Taiyu, on of the group.

"We have experienced tremendous changes in ethnic Tibetan areas. A tiny group of lawbreakers cannot destroy our home," Han said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 4,2008)

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