Tibetans open their doors to tourists

Dressed in traditional brocade finery, a young Tibetan woman welcomes her guests with true Tibetan hospitality: Barley wine, white silk hadas and her bright smile.

Her guests, a group of tourists from north China's Inner Mongolia, will spend one night at Dekyi's house to enjoy typical Tibetan food and spend a night under the rafters of an authentic Tibetan home.

College graduate Dekyi, 24, chose not to follow her brother and sister, who both work in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Instead, she returned to Weiba, a tiny village outside of Lhasa, and converted her family's two-story courtyard into a homestay, which she called "Lhasa Family."

The stone, clay and wood house features rooms painted in warm colors with Tibetan paintings and textile hangings.

She also turned one of the larger rooms into a gallery to display her family's collection of antiques and objects d'art, such as musical instruments, agricultural tools and art.

"I love to show my guests around this room, and tell them about these objects and share stories about my family," Dekyi explained.

Dekyi wanted to create a comfortable, welcoming space where tourists feel at home.

One guest said she was really made to feel at home. "We eat what they eat every day and do what they do. I feel no distance from their life at all," she explained.

As the number of tourists to Tibet has increased, Lhasa Tourism Bureau responded by rolling out measures to support homestays and guesthouses, and now more and more Tibetan families are opening their doors to tourists.

It is estimated that about 600 guesthouses will open over the next five years.

While guesthouses offer tourists a chance to experience Tibetan culture firsthand, they also bring more opportunities to Tibetans.

Dekyi has hosted nearly 700 tourists since her guesthouse opened in February.

"I have made friends with people from different countries and know more about the world thanks to the stories they shared. They made this once quiet house lively and our lives more diverse," she said.

For Dawa, 64, who also runs a guesthouse in Weiba, said his life has taken a turn for the better since he opened his doors to tourists in July.

"In the past, my family's life solely relied on farming and in winter, there was nothing to do. We only made 20,000 yuan (2,891 U.S. dollars) a year. But now, we can make over double that thanks to the guesthouse."

Kunga, who manages a larger resort-style guesthouse named "Kyishod Khangsang" in Lunzhub County near Lhasa, has created jobs for his neighbors.

He employs 49 people at his guesthouse, where tourists can try on traditional Tibetan costumes and learn how to make butter tea and local food.

He said he plans to open a space to display Tibetan cultural items, from pottery to thangka to wedding rituals.

"This will give tourists a more all-round experience of Tibetan life and customs," Kunga said. And more locals will be able to find jobs close to home.

According to official statistics, about 21 million Chinese and foreign tourists visited Tibet in the first three quarters of 2016, up 20.4 percent year on year.