Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - China lures tens of millions of tourists to Tibet



China lures tens of millions of tourists to Tibet

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
This photograph taken during a government organised media tour in Tibet shows tourists on the shore of the Namtso lake in Dangxiong county on June 2. AFP

China lures tens of millions of tourists to Tibet

In A room warmed by an open wood stove, Baima says her family converted their white-brick house into a hotel as China’s leadership ushers tens of millions of tourists to the politically sensitive region of Tibet.

Surrounded by mist-covered mountains, nearly 500km from the capital Lhasa and close to a disputed border with India, most of the houses in her remote village of Tashigang have followed suit and turned into homestays.

“We used to live a life of herding and farming,” the 27-year-old said. “Then the government encouraged us to run a hotel.”

The villagers – who speak the Tibetan language – have been given Mandarin classes to help them accommodate the Chinese guests whose arrival has boosted their income.

But critics warn the surge of visitors risks eroding traditional ways of life.

“Opening hotels is not as hard as herding,” Baima said from her home packed with ornate wooden furniture and brightly painted walls.

Government officials looked on as she spoke.

Tibet is restricted to foreign journalists who have little chance to visit a sensitive region that Beijing says it “peacefully liberated” in 1951.

It has been near-impossible to report from Tibet independently since 2008, when violent protests broke out in Lhasa and Beijing limitted access to the region and its residents.

AFP joined a recent government-steered tour to the region.

Tourism in Tibet fits with one of China’s key aims – poverty alleviation – but also, experts warn, follows a pattern of co-opting and reshaping outlying areas with a history of resistance to Beijing’s rule.

Thirty-five million tourists flooded into the region last year, 10 times the entire population of Tibet.

That has prompted warnings that the influx could overwhelm traditional lifestyles and values.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Villager Cangjie at her homestay in the village of Tashigang in the city of Nyingtri in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. AFP

“The cultural degradation that is involved in this case of hyper-managed mass tourism spectacle is very worrying,” said Robert Barnett of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

“It’s hard to identify though, since of course there is benefit for Tibetans in that trade; what is harder to quantify is the damage.”

‘Cultural training’

Waves of mainland travellers have flocked to the region, attracted by the scenery, air of mystique and multitude of new transport links.

Many dress in traditional Tibetan outfits and pose outside cultural landmarks in the capital city of Lhasa.

Baima’s hamlet has 51 family hotels, according to officials, tying the bulk of its residents to the tourism industry.

AFP did not see any tourists in the village on the visit.

“The government organises cultural training, national common language training [and] catering industry training,” party official Chen Tiantian told a crowd of reporters on the state-organised trip, insisting the programmes were “voluntary”.

“Now 80 per cent of the people in the village can communicate in Mandarin,” she added.

Baima’s neighbour Cangjie, wearing an identical traditional dress with embroidered sleeves, said their lives have changed.

“With the arrival of outsiders, we are . . . exposed to new things,” she said, four pictures of the Chinese President Xi Jinping hanging from her walls.

Scholars of Tibet say Beijing has pumped money into the region in the hopes that economic growth will diminish separatist sentiment.

Yet that carries the risk of the “commodification of culture”, Barnett of SOAS said, adding that Beijing expects its investment to be repaid by “gratitude to the Party for its generosity”.

Tashigang comes under the jurisdiction of Nyingtri city – a modern city called Linzhi in Chinese that is being dubbed an “international tourism area” by the government, pulling in eight million visitors last year.

“Our next goal is to strive for international tourists,” said Hu Xiongying, from the managing Party group of Lunang tourism town – Lulang in Chinese – a neighbouring district that administers Tashigang.

But most foreign passport holders are required to have an approved guide and special permit to enter Tibet so numbers are low, with only 270,000 international tourists in 2019.

MOST VIEWED

  • Construction begins on $1.5B Kampot seaport

    The International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre, principally invested by Kampot Logistics and Port Co Ltd and projected to cost $1.5 billion, has officially broken ground in Bokor town, Kampot province. The multi-purpose logistics and port centre, located in Prek Tnaot commune, will be built on

  • Cambodia eyes key role in electronics, auto hubs in SEA

    Two roadmaps, part of the LDC’s economic diversification plan, were designed to see it through its migration process, but experts say the journey might be arduous, particularly in the presence of two established hubs in the region By 2028, Cambodia hopes to have exited the

  • Hun Neng, lawmaker and PM’s brother, passes away aged 72

    Hun Neng, chairman of the 4th Commission of the National Assembly, has passed away from heart disease at the age of 72 on the afternoon of May 5, according to the Ministry of Information. Hun Neng is the older brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and was

  • PM meets with US business giants

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has met with a number of major US companies who have expressed interest in investing in Cambodia, in a meeting convened by the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC). A delegation of companies – including Amazon, Meta, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Ford, Visa and Pernod

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180