BEIJING — The number of tourists visiting Tibet in the first half of the year fell 70 percent from the previous year, state media reported Saturday, following unrest in the Himalayan region in March.
More than 340,000 travellers went to Tibet between January and June this year, the official Tibet Daily newspaper said, a dramatic drop from the same period in 2007 when over 1.1 million people visited, according to official statistics.
Beijing barred all tourists from going to Tibet after a massive crackdown on violence that erupted in Lhasa on March 14 against Chinese rule, and then spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations.
Chinese tour groups were allowed back in at the end of April, and visitors from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were subsequently given the green light to go early May.
Foreign visitors, however, were only allowed back in at the end of June.
The head of the regional tourism administration, Wang Songping, had predicted confidently early this year that visitors to Tibet would hit five million in 2008.
But the March riots and the subsequent government clampdown, in which exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died, and China has accused "rioters" of being responsible for 21 deaths, put a stop to that.
In March, the number of tourists dropped nearly 49 percent compared to the same time last year to 14,200, the Tibet Daily said, citing Deng Xiaogang, vice chairman of Tibet.
"The March 14 incident had the biggest impact on the service sector in Tibet, and the tourism industry was significantly impacted," Deng said, according to the report.
But tourism was now improving, and 370,000 travellers went to Tibet in July alone, more than in the whole of the first half of the year, the newspaper said.