Tibet sees record tourism despite restrictions

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The Independent Online

A record 4.75 million tourists visited China's Tibet in the first nine months of 2009, more than twice as many as in all of 2008, when unrest led to a ban on foreigners, state media said Wednesday.

The local government slashed the cost of holiday packages, hotels and tickets to draw tourists back to the picturesque Himalayan region, Xinhua news agency reported.

"It's a high point for Tibet's tourism industry," Wang Songping, deputy director of the regional tourism bureau, was quoted as saying.

Wang said visitors to the Buddhist region generated four billion yuan (586 million dollars) in revenue in the January to September period.

During the eight-day National Day holiday this month, Tibet received 295,400 tourists, Wang added, without providing a figure for last year for comparison.

Xinhua did not provide a breakdown for foreign and domestic tourist numbers.

China banned foreign tourists from visiting Tibet after deadly anti-Chinese riots erupted in Lhasa and across the Tibetan plateau in March 2008.

The number of visitors to the region fell to 2.2 million in 2008 as compared with four million the year before.

Beijing also barred foreigners in March of this year during the tense 50th anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against China that sent the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, into exile.

Foreign tourists must obtain special permission from China's government to enter Tibet, where resentment against Chinese control has seethed for decades.

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