LHASA - Lhasa, Tibet's regional capital, is playing down expectations for the upcoming summer tourist season and is instead looking to lure more domestic travelers, the local tourist authority said on Sunday.
The summer season between May 1 and October 31 is the best travel time for the holy city of Lhasa, known for its marvellous plateau spectacle and Tibetan ethnic culture. Last year, the city government doubled ticket prices at major tourist sites to control heavy flow during the peak season.
Tibet's architectural icon, the Potala Palace, for example, sold tickets for 200 yuan (US$ 28) in summer, compared to 100 yuan in the winter low season.
"There is a serious imbalance in seasonal tourism in Tibet," said Gao Fu, the deputy bureau head.
During the riot that erupted Lhasa on March 14, rioters shouted "Tibet Independence", killed 19 people and set fire to more than 300 locations. These included shops, homes, banks and government offices. In addition, they smashed and burned 56 vehicles, mainly in the downtown.
Tourists visiting the city these days will find that they needn't stand in line for the usually hard-to-get tickets for popular attractions. On March 26, 10 days after it was closed for security reasons, the Potala Palace was reopened to tourists.
On the first day, however, only 24 tourists and 75 Tibetan Buddhism followers bought tickets to see the World Cultural Heritage listed site.
The local tourism bureau, noting the aftermath of the riot, is expecting the prospects for visitors to drop for the remainder of this year. In reaction, it has made plans to carry out promotions and increase funding for tourist development later this year to restore the market sentiment.
With ticket prices currently frozen for the summer season, travel officials hope that this will attract more domestic travelers.
The opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the first line to connect Tibet with the outside world, in July 2006, has given the autonomous region's tourist industry a strong boom. Last year, it received a record-high 4.02 million tourists, 1.5 million more than the previous year.