Tibet Draws Record No. Of Tourists Despite Riots

Tibet received a record 4.75 million tourists in the first nine months of this year, state media reported Wednesday, marking a rebound from ethnic rioting and security clampdowns last year that shut the Himalayan region to travelers.

Tourism revenue reached almost 4 billion yuan ($580 million), the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the deputy director of the regional tourism bureau, Wang Songping.

Some of that went to the more than 10,000 Tibetan families that have opened their homes to tourist stays, the report said.

"It's a high point for Tibet's tourism industry," Wang was quoted as saying at a meeting of the Tibetan regional Communist Party.

Tourism in region took a major hit after anti-government riots in March 2008, in which Tibetans attacked Chinese migrants and torched much of Lhasa's commercial district, leaving 22 people dead by China's account.

Travel bans and crackdowns on Buddhist monasteries sent arrivals in the first half of last year plunging nearly 70 percent. Tibet was only fully reopened to foreign tourists on April 5.

To regain lost ground, authorities halved prices for tours, hotel rooms and entry tickets to sites such as the famed Potala Palace in the capital Lhasa. In addition, flag carrier Air China began offering direct flights from Beijing to Tibet in July, shaving two hours off the previous travel time.

China says Tibet has been part of its territory for hundreds of years, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since troops arrived in 1951.

Many Tibetans, however, say they were effectively independent for most of their history and that Chinese rule _ and the migration of ethnic Han Chinese to settle in the region _ are eroding their traditional Buddhist culture.