Tourism is booming in Tibet.
More and more Chinese are traveling to the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this poses risks for the fragile environment and historic sites in the region.
âThe biggest challenge for us is the contradiction between the protection and use of cultural relics,â said Gonggar Tashi, chief administrator of the Potala Palace.
At the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas, the number of visitors allowed daily is limited to 5,000.
Balancing the demand of the millions of visitors who come there each year with the need to minimize wear and tear on the massive hillside structure is a constant challenge, Tashi said.
2020 saw a 12.6% increase in the number of tourists from the previous year, said Ge Lei, deputy director of the China Tourism Marketing Association.
He expects the number of visitors to roughly double by 2026.
The glut of visitors, far exceeding the Tibetan population of 3.5 million, means that caution is needed to protect the environment and culture, he said.
Among the most popular natural sights in Tibet is Lake Namtso, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and Buddhist shrines, with yaks and migrating birds on the horizon.
Further development of the site must be done with care to avoid damaging what makes it attractive, Ge said.
âIt will be difficult to protect Tibet’s ecology and cultureâ¦ if we don’t have a long-term plan,â he said. “So it is very important to establish a set of values ââand rules of behavior for traveling to Tibet while building the facilities.”
As the country’s focus shifted from international visitors to domestic visitors, Tibetans have sometimes complained about Chinese tourists’ lack of respect for cultural traditions, including walking on prayer flags, said Emily Yeh, professor of geography at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The change came as China’s middle class grew, Yeh added.