Tourism in Tibet is booming.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more Chinese are traveling domestically, but this poses a risk to the fragile environment and historical sites of the region.
“The biggest challenge for us is the contradiction between the preservation and utilization of cultural relics,” said Gongga Tashi, the chief executive of the Potala Palace.
In the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama, the number of tourists allowed per day is limited to 5,000.
Tashi said that balancing the needs of the millions of tourists who come here each year with the need to minimize the wear and tear on the huge hillside structure is an ongoing challenge.
Ge Lei, deputy director of the China Tourism Marketing Association, said that the number of tourists in 2020 will increase by 12.6% over the previous year.
He predicts that by 2026, the number of tourists will roughly double.
He said that the surplus of tourists, far exceeding the population of 3.5 million in Tibet, means that care must be taken to protect the environment and culture.
One of Tibet’s most popular natural attractions is Namtso Lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and Buddhist holy sites, with yaks and migratory birds on the horizon.
Ge said that further development of the site must be carried out carefully to avoid destroying its appeal.
“It will be difficult to protect Tibet’s ecology and culture…if we don’t have a long-term plan,” he said. “So while building facilities, it is very important to establish a set of values and codes of conduct for Tibet tourism.”
Emily Ye, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado Boulder, said that as the country’s focus shifts from international tourists to domestic tourists, Tibetans sometimes complain that Chinese tourists do not respect cultural traditions, including stamping on prayer flags.
Ye added that with the growth of China’s middle class, this shift has also followed.