Tibet to see record high tourists in 2007: official media
( AFP ) - A record four million tourists will have visited Tibet this year thanks to a new railway linking the Himalayan region to the rest of China and another airport, state press reported Monday.
The number of tourists will have jumped over 60 percent from last year, bringing in an expected 4.8 billion yuan (650 million dollars) in tourism revenues, or 73 percent more than last year, Xinhua news agency said.
"The golden era of Tibet tourism has come," Xinhua quoted Tibet's top Communist Party official, Zhang Qingli, as saying.
Zhang attributed the rapid growth mainly to the opening of the Tibet railway -- the highest in the world with sections surpassing 5,000 metres (16,500 feet) in elevation -- and a third civilian airport in the region.
The Tibetan railway opened last year, linking the region with the rest of China and offering affordable tickets to many Chinese that previously shied away due to expensive airfares, or horrendously long and dangerous bus rides.
The region received 2.5 million tourists last year and reaped 2.77 billion yuan in total tourism earnings, which accounted for 9.6 percent of the region's gross domestic product (GDP).
Tibet's GDP grew by 13.4 percent in 2006, the highest level of growth since 1995.
But exiled Tibetans have raised fears the rail line is being used as a tool to strengthen Beijing's hold over Tibet and further endanger the region's unique Buddhist culture.
They argue the rail line is allowing the region to be flooded with more ethnic Han Chinese, who are dominating business and eroding Tibetan traditions.
"It is a source of deep concern that ever since the railway line became operational, Tibet has seen a further increase in Chinese population transfer," exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama said in March.
China's army sent troops in to "liberate" Tibet in 1950, one year after the current communist government in Beijing took control of the country.