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Tibet Official Expects More Plateau Tourists

An official of the Tibet Autonomous Region said Tuesday the plateau is ready to host more tourists, as tourism industry is both environment-friendly and promises quick wealth to the underdeveloped southwest China region.

"It's not that too many tourists are coming to Tibet -- there're too few of them," said Hao Peng, deputy secretary of the Tibet Regional Communist Party Committee and a delegate to the ongoing 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

He refuted reports that criticized tourism as detrimental to Tibet's ecology.

This year Tibet has received 3.5 million tourists, compared with 50 million that visited Yunnan Province also in southwest China, he quoted figures from local tourism administrations.

"Covering 1.2 million square kilometers, Tibet far outsize Yunnan," he said during a group discussion of the Tibet delegation to the Party congress, which opened to Chinese and overseas reporters.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway that started operation in July 2006 instantly drove up that year's total tourist arrivals to 2.5 million. About 3.8 million people are expected to visit Tibet this year, bringing 4 billion to 5 billion yuan (US$513 million to US$641 million) of tourism revenue.

"Developing tourism does not necessarily contradict environment preservation," Hao said. "Despite the rising number of tourists, the air quality in Lhasa remains good almost all year round."

He said Tibet has stepped up measures to prevent pollution in recent years. "Plastic bags are no more provided for free at Lhasa's stores and supermarkets, and many locals voluntarily clean up garbage at major tourist destinations."

Under such circumstances, a few million tourists won't have much impact on Tibet's environment, said Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the regional government. "We don't foresee any problem even if there are twice as many."

Yet his government has moved to protect the Potala Palace and some other cultural heritage sites from potential damage. "We have restricted the daily number of visitors to 2,300 and 3,000 to ease the pressure," he said.

The Potala Palace, more than 1,300 years old, is a wood structure and therefore more vulnerable to damage.

He also revealed a plan to build a separate exhibition hall down the hill, so that visitors can have a glimpse of the best collections without climbing up the golden-roofed palace.

(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2007)

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