Tibet Tourism Increases but Challenges Abound

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The peak Tibetan travel season begins in May and lasts through September. According to the Global Travel Industry News, from 2009 to 2010 3.3 million tourists visited Tibet. This is expected to increase to 15 million by 2015. Despite the popularity of Tibet travel, rules and regulations change frequently, and foreign travelers are often unprepared for the special challenges of Tibet travel. Explore Tibet, a Lhasa-based travel agency with a commitment to sustainable practices, has compiled some guidelines for tourists in the early planning stages of a Tibet tour.

The peak Tibet travel season begins in May and lasts through September. According to the Global Travel Industry News, from 2009 to 2010 3.3 million tourists visited Tibet. This is expected to increase to 15 million by 2015. Despite the popularity of Tibet travel, rules and regulations change frequently, and foreign travelers are often unprepared for the special challenges of Tibet travel. Explore Tibet, a Lhasa-based travel agency with a commitment to sustainable practices, has compiled some guidelines for tourists in the early planning stages of a Tibet tour.

  •     Plan early for permits. There are several different permits required for Tibet travel.
  •     First is a Chinese visa, usually a tourist visa. These visas must be obtained from an embassy or consulate in the traveler’s home country, and usually require 3 working days to process.
  •     Upon entering China but before entering Tibet a Tibet Travel Permit must be obtained from an authorized travel agency. These can take several weeks to process.
  •     Most areas outside Lhasa have restricted access, and foreign tourists will need an Alien Travel Permit or a Military Permit in addition to the Tibet Travel Permit to enter. This must be applied for at the same time as the Tibet Travel Permit.
  •     Choose when to travel. High season, from June to the end of October, marks the best time of year to travel in Tibet. The weather is mild, there are many festivals and holidays, and more areas are available for trekking. During the winter road access across the plateau becomes limited due to weather. Here are some tips to remember when planning.
  •     Hotels and airlines are busiest during the high season, so travelers should book well in advance. Take into consideration that travel costs are higher at this time.
  •     Train and plane tickets are booked up quickly during major Chinese holidays. Travel to Tibet becomes expensive and difficult during the first week of May, the first week of October, and the weeks of Spring Festival, which usually fall in late January and early February.
  •     In recent years, Tibet travel has been closed entirely to foreigners when the political situation grows tense. These changes occur quickly and are difficult to anticipate. Travelers should stay in touch with their travel agency for updates, and keep a back-up itinerary in case Tibet permits are denied.
  •     Think about your impact. Travelers to Tibet affect the land and its people. The tourism industry in Tibet continues to grow, but the average Tibetan lives on relatively small means. When planning your Tibet Tours, choose Tibetan-owned agencies with a record of sustainable business practices. Through responsible choices, travelers can promote the livelihood of the Tibetan people and the protection of Tibet’s world-class environment.

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Sonam Jamphel