Tourism bankrolling Tibetan communities' development

In 2015, tourism revenue in Tibetan regions of Sichuan totaled 39 billion yuan (about six billion US dollars), up 20 percent year on year.[Photo/Xinhua]

Yang Zhonghuo must be one of China's busiest officials.

The tourism chief in Aba, a county with a high concentration of Tibetan and Qiang people in Sichuan province, often finds his office crowded.

With authorities promising to direct money earned from developing tourism back into such ethnic communities, monks show up asking for funds to repair their monasteries. Herdsmen come for advice on how to profit from the tourism boom. Village officials, hotel owners, logistics company executives and even foreign tourists are no stranger to Yang's office.

"I have never seen anything like this -- tourism is truly changing lives here," he said.

In 2015, tourism revenue in Tibetan regions of Sichuan totaled 39 billion yuan (about six billion US dollars), up 20 percent year on year.

Attracting tourists is becoming a bigger and bigger part of local government strategy. A dozen tourism-related bills, rather than the usual two or three, were submitted during Aba's legislative sessions this year.

Last year, Aba's government invested 24 million yuan to develop tourist attractions and infrastructure like roads and parking lots.

Local officials are hungry for more financing from central government. Sichuan deputies to the annual session of the National People's Congress are hoping to submit a bill on developing eco- and cultural tours in Tibetan areas of the province.

"We do not want to miss the opportunity to develop. More financing is critical for improving people's lives," said Yang.

People in Shenzuo village of Aba have traditionally made a living herding cattle. In 2015, 23 local families opened guest houses, and small hoteliers now outnumber herders in Shenzuo.

"Urban folk just love the simple life here; the wetland, forests, lake and monasteries," said villager Angtang.

Local officials hope Aba will be attracting a million tourists per year and making a billion yuan from tourism by 2020.

In Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Gannan of Sichuan's neighboring Gansu province, efforts to develop tourism is also in full swing. The prefecture will get a loan of 6.5 billion yuan from the Gansu branch of the Agricultural Bank of China from 2015 to 2019 to boost tourism.

The fund will be used to improve facilities such as road, water, electricity and hotels.

Tibet autonomous region is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. It received a record 20 million tourists in 2015, nearly twice that of 2010, and earned 28 billion yuan in tourism revenue, nearly three times the figure five years ago.