Entrance tickets to Potala Palace sold like hot cakes in railway-linked Tibet last year, but political advisors and legislators here worry that more tourists will be disappointed by scant ticket supplies.
Tourism to Tibet is soaring with the operation of the new railway line which opened last July, running from Xining in northwest China to Lhasa in southwest China.
As the train races across the Lhasa Bridge, Potala Palace can be clearly seen in the background. But it has become harder to get into the sacred complex as only a limited number of entrance tickets are available each day, said Ngoezhub Puncog, who is attending the annual session of China's top political advisory body, which opened on Saturday.
Ngoezhub Puncog, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) from Tibet, told Xinhua that in the best tourist season last year, about 4,500 to 5,000 visitors came to Lhasa each day, but Potala Palace placed a 2,300-tickets-per-day cap on tourist admittance.
It means hundreds of thousands of tourists miss the chance of visiting the famous palace every year, he said.
The 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet railway ended the region's history of no railway and connected it more closely with the rest of the world. The engineering miracle provides travelers with cheaper and safer access to the Roof of the World.
About 2.45 million visitors landed in Tibet last year, up 40 percent from 2005, and more than 90 percent were domestic travelers. The region reported a total tourism revenue of 2.6 billion yuan (US$342 million), accounting for 9.5 percent of local GDP last year.
Local tourism officials expect to host three to four million this year, daunting numbers given Tibet's current population of 2. 7 million.
"It may look prosperous, but problems are lurking around and should not be neglected," Ngoezhub Puncog said, adding that limited reception capability indicated Tibet's tourism industry not yet fully developed to cope with growing number of visitors.
Local hotels can not offer high-level services and lack market experience, said Losang, who has come from Tibet to attend the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), which is slated to open on March 5.
The number of hotels in Tibet reached 606 by the end of last December, a year-on-year rise of 16.5 percent. However, Losang said they must improve the management level to better serve the flourishing tourism.
He was also concerned about the poor performance of local tour guides, as he found some of them gave distorted introductions and explanations about some temples and palaces.
He suggested more regional tourist routes be developed to divert visitors from over-burdened Lhasa, listing Nyingchi and Shannan in south Tibet as good destinations.
Nyingchi Airport, Tibet's third after Lhasa and Qamdo, went into operation just two months after the railway started operation, making it easier to get to the spectacular grand canyon of Yarlung Zangbo River.
New well-developed tourist attractions will also ensure a healthy expansion of local tourism industry, Losang said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 4, 2007)