Chinese officials have announced that the government is planning to build a £3 billion culture theme park outside of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, over the next three to five years. Tourism development is seen as vital to the economic future of Tibet, and authorities have set a goal of attracting 15 million travellers every year by 2015 in order to generate £1.8 billion in a region with only a three million-strong population.
Lhasa deputy mayor Ma Xinming says that the park will cover 800 hectares of land in an area just more than a mile from the city centre. The park will improve the capital’s attractiveness to travellers and be a landmark for culture. He added that the theme park will reduce tourist pressure on the Jokhang Temple, as well as the Barkhor. This will help protect the heritage of Lhasa.
One attraction will be themed around Princess Wencheng. She was the seventh-century niece of a Tang-dynasty emperor and married a king form the Tibetan Yarlung dynasty. Her tale has been embraced as a parable of ethnic harmony by Chinese authorities. There will be outdoor shows about the princess and other entertainment and educational facilities. Residential and business districts will be included as well. Officials believe a theme park will develop tourism, though many have failed to attract the visitors and investment expected. There’s no way of telling if the government will end up building the project on the massive scale they envision.
Columbia University Tibetan culture expert Professor Robert Barnett says that, while some officials talk about culturally and environmentally appropriate tourism in the region, this theme park “represents a nail in the coffin” on a symbolic, and even practical, level amid attempts by Tibetans and Chinese to support that. To recover the cost, tourism will need to be on an unimaginable level. Tibetans may go to the theme park themselves but will question if it’s good for culture and worth the large investment. They are very aware of these problems, he added, but he’s not sure they will be asked about it publicly.
State media has reported that visitor numbers to the region increased 25.7% during the first five months of the year. The tourism bureau says Tibet anticipates to have ten million tourists visit this year – one million more than last year – while tourism revenues are due to grow to £1.2 billion. However, Tibetan groups are concerned that the rise in tourism has eroded traditional culture and that tourism income has been more beneficial to Han Chinese than Tibetans.
However, last month foreigners were banned from visiting the region indefinitely amid growing tension. In Lhasa, two Tibetan men set themselves on fire in June, while areas across the region have seen a series of self-immolations – involving protests against Chinese policies.
Also last month, it was reported that officials have earmarked over £40.5 million to develop tourism in the Nyingchi prefecture of southeastern Tibet. This area is renowned for its beautiful scenery and will be developed into an international Swiss-style town. The plan involves building 22 model villages where tourists will enjoy homestays. There have been warnings that the scheme could damage the environment.
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