Months after riots, Tibet tourism still suffering

/ Source: The Associated Press

Tourists are continuing to give Tibet a miss, more than six months after deadly rioting in the regional capital of Lhasa, China's official Xinhua News Agency said Monday.

Numbers of overnight visitors during last week's national day holiday were off by 41.5 percent from the same period last year, to just 110,900, Xinhua said. Earnings in the industry were down almost 39 percent to US$11.8 million (81.49 million yuan), the report said.

Tourism took a major hit from the March 14 riot, in which Tibetans attacked Chinese migrants and torched much of Lhasa's commercial district, leaving 22 people dead by the official account.

Travel bans and a harsh crackdown on Buddhist monasteries sent tourism plummeting, with tourist arrivals in the first half of the year down by 69 percent.

Despite a government campaign to revive the industry, officials continue to place national security ahead of tourism: One of Lhasa's most celebrated monasteries, Drepung, only reopened to the public in August after monks were subjected to months of pro-communist propaganda.

Xinhua quoted a Tibet tourism official as saying that losses in the industry were a direct result of the rioting, while making no mention of the military-led crackdown or accompanying travel bans.

"But tourist confidence in traveling in Tibet is returning according to the situation in the previous months and the region's tourism is recovering," said the official, Zhanor, who like many Tibetans uses only one name.

Calls to the Tibet tourism bureau rang unanswered and local government spokesman, Fu Jun, declined to comment on the Xinhua report, saying he had not yet seen the data.

The Xinhua report came out before a magnitude 6.6 earthquake shook Tibet on Monday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, U.S. and Chinese seismologists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site that the quake struck at 4:30 p.m. (0830 GMT) 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, more than 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) away from Beijing.