Tourism Puts The Crunch On Tibet

Here’s an interesting article from The Guardian which reports that increased access to Tibet, thanks to a new rail line and better air service, has seen tourist traffic rise 60% in the past year.

Over 4 million people visited the tiny country last year, meaning that the tourists out numbered the actual population of the country. This increased traffic has begun to put a strain on the infrastructure there, as roads and attractions became overly crowded with the influx of visitors.

This startling rise in tourist has led some to criticize the Chinese Government for valuing the monetary gains over the impact of those visitors on the fragile environment in Tibet. With early reports saying that income generated from tourism up 73% in 2007, it’s unlikely that we’ll see things change any time soon however. The government counters this by saying the increased revenue will actually help them to protect and restore tourist attractions, such as palaces and monasteries, in the long run.

This is an interesting dilemma for me. On the one hand, I love to travel, and there are a lot of places in the World I have yet to visit, but would still like to see, Tibet being one of them. But on the other hand, it’s becoming increasingly clear that tourism can be a bad thing for a country unless great care is taken to limit it’s reach and to promote sustainable tourism at every opportunity. China’s track record hasn’t been the best when it comes to these kinds of situations either. They care more about their growing economic power than their environment, and plans to build a road to Everest smacks of cashing in on the tourist dollar. Lets hope they don’t go too far in their exploitation and really do reinvest in the Tibetan infrastructure so that these incredible places will be there for future generations to enjoy as well.

Kraig Becker

5 thoughts on “Tourism Puts The Crunch On Tibet”

  1. One of the interesting things is that probably the majority of Tibet tourists are Chinese.

    It’s no mystery that the Chinese government is extremely oppresive to the native Tibetans and have destroyed many cultural sites such as monasteries or at least strictly limited and controlled them. Monastic cities that used to number in the thousands of monk residents now only house hundreds.

    Ironically, these same areas that were so smothered by the Chinese government are now extremely popular tourist destination for typical Chinese citizens.

    On one hand this is good because it may protect some of these sites such as the Potala Palace in Lhasa which has just undergone a major restoration. But, listen to the Chinese tourguides talk to the groups they are leading around these cultural sites, and the government propoganda drips from their mouths. Their information and historical perspective is incredibly innacurate and biased towards the Chinese occupation.

    It makes the native Tibetan guides sick, sad and angry.


  2. It makes sense that the majority of the tourists are Chinese. It’s not a far journey for them, and yet they can still visit a land that is mysterious and exotic to them as well.

    It’s a shame that they are just reciting the Chinese party line as the guides take their clients around though, but I guess that should be expected as well.

    You know that the place is high on my “Life List” of must see places, just hope I can get there before it turns into China’s version of Disney Land.

  3. It’s true what jonathan is saying–the propaganda coming from the mouths of these Chinese tour guides is simply horrendous. I conducted three weeks’ worth of clandestine interviews of former prisoners (all tortured) in Tibet in 2004, and what I found was simply shocking. This railroad, all of China’s construction, the money being poured into Tibet–all of it is to benefit the Chinese, whether they are the Chinese in Lhasa (as they now outnumber the Tibetans in Lhasa) or the Chinese tourists. Go into the nice new malls in Lhasa. No Tibetans. None of the workers smiling behind the counters even speak Tibetan. None of the signs or labels are in Tibetan. Go to the cinema in Lhasa. No Tibetan workers. No Tibetan subtitles. Go to the gleaming new stores selling furniture and computers and such and ask who their customers are (ask in English or Chinese, though, because none of the shop-owners speak Tibetan!) and they’ll tell you they they are Chinese, mostly military. And let’s not forget, China stations half a MILLION military personnel in Tibet. That’s one our of every five or six people. Tibet is a COLONY and this new railroad is just the latest chapter is the country’s sad, blood-soaked recent history of subjugation and denial of liberty.

  4. Yep! And China is just going to continue to enforce their culture on Tibet until very little of their own remains. It’s all part of a concerted effort by the Chinese to indoctrinate Tibetans into China.

    It’ll be a shame if the entire Tibetan culture is lost over the next few generations. 🙁

Comments are closed.