Need to unwind in a gold-plated swimming pool, then enjoy butler service in your suite, with oxygen tanks on hand? even at 12,000 feet above sea level, the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, can now accommodate such high-end desires, after its first five-star hotel opened last month.
But non-Chinese visitors better wait until August to check in, when Tibet should reopen to foreign tourists.
For the second time this year, following a now-annual travel ban in March, the anniversary of deadly riots in 2008, foreigners cannot visit Tibet from late June through most of July because of two major political anniversaries, say travel agents in Lhasa and Beijing. In April, foreigners were barred from some Tibetan areas of neighboring Sichuan province, after unrest at a Buddhist monastery.
This series of travel bans suggests a high degree of government nervousness about potential trouble — and foreign witnesses — and undermines efforts to portray Tibet as harmonious and open for business, says the International Campaign for Tibet, an activist group.
Officials plan to make tourism a pillar industry in Tibet, by doubling the number of visitors, mostly Chinese, to 15 million in 2015. Tibet has a permanent population of 3 million, of whom 90% are ethnic Tibetans, according to the 2010 census.
Tibet is the only region of China for which foreign tourists must secure a special travel permit, in addition to a Chinese visa. Domestic Chinese tourists remain unaffected.