Tibet travel update: TAR closed to foreign tourists until July 25, 2011

Culture | by Aimee Groom
Posted: June 17th, 2011 | Updated: June 17th, 2011 | Comments
Christine-Mutzenbacher_tibet travel June July 2011 For a country looking to double travel in Tibet to over 15 million visitors per year by 2015, China has a funny way of going about it. Recently announcing the second lock-down on foreign travel in Tibet in just six months, the Chinese government is banning all foreign tourists ahead of the July 1st anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party. The ban was officially pegged for 25 June to 25 July, but in reality is being enforced immediately, with some reports claiming it could even extend into August—the festival season in Tibet—scuppering plans for many more summer holidaymakers. Though travel agents were informed earlier in the year about the restricted travel periods, the early adoption is likely a response to unrest in Inner Mongolia, the recent anniversary of Tian'anmen Square and the lingering effects of a crackdown on dissidents since mid-February's anonymous call to a certain flower-powered revolution. Foreigners were also left out in the cold in March 2011, refused entry to the TAR ostensibly because it was, apparently, even colder there: "The temporary measures on restricting foreign tourists to Tibet were mainly due to the current cold winter weather, limited accommodation capacity and safety concerns," said a high ranking official at that time. The limited accommodation here referred to events planned in celebration of the 60th anniversary of "peaceful liberation," a party to which troublesome foreigners were most certainly not invited.  Just two decades ago, foreign tourists were the driving force behind growing interest in Tibet as a viable tourist destination, with backpackers drawn by the spiritual, cultural and aesthetic appeal of this inaccessible region. In recent years however, all that has changed.  The Qinghai-Tibet railway bringing floods of wealthy Chinese tourists from the mainland--travelers with money to burn and a taste for ostentatious luxury and comfort. The ban of course does not affect these Chinese tourists (who now make up approximately 90% of all visitors to Tibet) and as Jean-Michel Kok of the new, ultra-luxe 5-star St Regis Lhasa hotel stated last month:
"Those from the Chinese mainland, who have strong consumer purchasing power and focus on premium leisure are the  more important customers luxury hotels such as St. Regis want to attract."
So perhaps the ban will not make much of a dent in the St Regis Lhasa's bottom line or in the government's projected visitor numbers, but it will have an impact on the smaller, independent vendors who offer the more "authentic" Tibet experience traditionally sought by foreign travelers. While you can certainly still up-to-date Tibet travel information.
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