Tibet looks to build on tourism boom

As visitor numbers and revenues rise, region's counties work to develop  tourist offerings

More than 100,000 rural residents in the Tibet autonomous region made money  from tourism last year, according to the fifth session of the 10th People's  Congress of Tibet.

Tourism revenues reached 33 billion yuan ($4.8 billon), up 17 percent  year-on-year, as more than 23 million people flocked to the region, a 14.7  percent increase.

This year, more than 25 million visitors are expected, according to a  government work report, with revenues forecast to hit 37 billion yuan.

"The region has fully promoted the standardization of tourism services, and  the tourism industry has witnessed growth both in quality and effectiveness,"  said Losang Gyaltsan, chairman of the regional government, while delivering the  annual government work report recently.

He added that Tibet would reinforce the training of tourism professionals and  talent throughout this year.

Traditional Tibetan papermaking, a part of the region's intangible cultural  heritage, has been one of the industries to benefit from the tourism boom.

Much of the region's paper production ceased half a century ago, but Nyemo  county's Darong township, about 150 kilometers from Lhasa, has kept the craft  alive.

"Since the 2000s, Tibetan paper has gained popularity in tourist spots, and  the regional tourism bureau has encouraged craftsmen to preserve the culture,"  said Tsering Tobgyal, the owner of a Tibetan paper workshop in the county and a  third-generation paper maker.

Fellow craftsman Kalzang Tenzin said tourism had enabled him to expand the  range of products he can offer.

"Tourists come to us with different needs and orders, and we produce the  products according to their wishes," the 45-year-old said.

He estimates that of the 150,000 yuan ($21,800) his family earned in 2014 and  2015, 100,000 yuan came from tourist sales while the rest came from monasteries  and monks.

Last year, by contrast, his family made 250,000 yuan - about 180,000 yuan of  which was generated from tourism, while the rest came from selling paper to the  Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze.

Elsewhere, Nagqu county is in the initial stages of developing its tourism  industry, according to Trinley Dargye, its Party chief.

Known for its storytellers who recount the Epic of King Gesar, Nagqu has a  King Gesar Tourism Center currently under construction.

"There are around 100 King Gesar storytellers in Nagqu prefecture and our  county has 38 of them, so we want to start cultural tourism in our county," said  Trinley.

"Another big tourism project we have in the works is a circular tourist  route, which will connect some of the prefecture's counties."

He said it was crucial for the nomads living in the region to get involved in  the tourism industry, as some have already started to do by producing  traditional nomadic products.

"We have abundant natural and cultural resources and we cannot fall behind as  the rest of the region's tourism develops," he said.

Areas near Tibet's border with Nepal, such as Gyirong county, are also  getting in on the act.

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and with an average elevation of more  than 4,000 meters, its landscapes are already a major tourist draw.

"Our county plans to start a one-day cross-border tour working with the Nepal  side," said Hu Hong, the county head.

"We also plan to optimize our infrastructure to further develop tourism this  year."

Hu said his county welcomed more than 45,000 tourists last year, with tourism  revenues reaching 47 million yuan.