Efficient transport and improved homestay offerings have helped draw visitors to Tibetan region, Xu Lin reports.
Every day, Padma and her mother's daily routine consists of maintaining the cleanliness of the family's two-story building. They run a guesthouse with a typical Tibetan-style interior that can host up to 20 guests.
"Tilling the land is laborious, and it is exposed to the weather. Running a homestay involves less labor and pressure, bringing in more earnings," says the 25-year-old. The guesthouse is a major source of family income. Padma's father rears yaks and her husband transports materials for construction sites.
In Lunang town of the Tibet autonomous region's Nyingchi city, Tashigang village has 64 households with 314 people. Of the 64 households, 51 households including Padma's family have opened Tibetan-styled homestays due to the growing number of tourists. This has made Tashigang an exemplary model in developing rural tourism, as part of efforts to boost rural revitalization.
Nyingchi received about 8.64 million tourist visits with a tourism revenue of 7.2 billion yuan ($1.12 billion) in 2019, increasing by 21 percent and 21.6 percent respectively from 2018 figures. Tourists are attracted to Nyingchi's beautiful scenery and annual peach blossom festival that is held between March and April.
More efficient ways of traveling means increasing numbers of visitors. The Lhasa-Nyingchi Highway was open to traffic in April 2019, shortening travel hours between the cities from eight to about five. As part of a 1,838-kilometer Sichuan-Tibet railway project, a 435-km section of railway linking Nyingchi and Lhasa is expected to open before July, traveling through picturesque views of the Yarlung Zangbo River and snowcapped mountains.
This news comes from: China Daily
Tashigang also attracts road trip enthusiasts due to its location-it lies on National Highway 318 connecting Lhasa with Chengdu, capital of neighboring Sichuan province. The nearby popular scenic Lunang International Tourism Town has also increased tourist visits to the village.
"Tourists prefer local Tibetan-styled homestays to enjoy an authentic experience," says Chen Tiantian, an officer from the local government.
She says the earliest homestay in the village was established in 1998, when locals relied on farming and herding for a living. Over the years, they have bought cars and renovated their houses as their lives became better. The village's total tourism income is about 14 million yuan per year.
Infrastructure of the village was built with the help of Guangdong province. Since 1994, the central government has established pairing-up aid programs for Tibet with other provinces and equivalent administrative units in China, so Nyingchi and Guangdong were paired up.
Guesthouses in Tashigang are fully booked during peak season. It will cost about 300 yuan per night to book a homestay during peak season, and 100 yuan during off-peak season.
To help villagers better serve tourists, the local government has regularly organized free training sessions for them ranging from Mandarin lessons to cooking and housekeeping.
Chen says the language barrier is the first issue that needs to be tackled. Younger villagers are more likely to take up Mandarin lessons, as they are usually the ones communicating with tourists.
In four villages nearby with tourism businesses, more than one-third of the villagers have attended such lessons. About 80 percent of villagers can communicate with visitors in Mandarin, while the remaining 20 percent are elderly villagers that prefer speaking Tibetan.
This news comes from: China Daily
Tsamcho, a 37-year-old villager from Tashigang, has been running a homestay with her husband for the past 12 years.
"Tourists are curious about traditional Tibetan folk activities like horse riding and archery. They like to dress up in Tibetan costumes and take photos, and enjoy local Tibetan dishes," she says.
The family has about 30 yaks, and some guests would feed the yaks and milk them with the couple.
Tsamcho's family were used to making a living by farming and herding but their income from the homestay business was about 400,000 yuan last year.
With the government upgrading the roads, she says there are more tourists than before due to the easier accessibility. Tsamcho's family financial status has seen obvious changes since 2013 due to the increasing number of visitors.
"The preferential government policies for Tibetans, especially subsidies and basic medical insurance, have increased our incomes and prevented us from being impoverished if we fell ill," she says.
In 2011, the central government established a subsidy program for grassland conservation in Tibet. The subsidies are provided to farmers and herders whose grasslands are under the grazing ban, or to those who have cultivated improved varieties of grass or raised better breeds of livestock.
Tsamcho says her family members have broadened their horizons and learned how to enjoy their lives. Their situation has greatly changed both emotionally and materially.
Every year, her parents, who are in their 60s, like to travel to popular domestic destinations such as Beijing and Chengdu with their friends from the village. Before the family's homestay business began, her parents never had spare money for holidays.
With a forest coverage rate of more than 80 percent, Lunang has been dubbed "China's Switzerland "for its majestic landscapes. In 2017, the Lunang International Tourism Town was opened under the major pairing-aid project with Guangdong.
"The tourism town's traditional Tibetan-styled architecture and ecology appeal to tourists," says Hu Xiongying, an official from the scenic area. Originally an official from Guangdong, he has worked in Tibet for eight years to assist the region.
He says the scenic area aims to be an ecotourism hub in the region, with a well-designed layout of buildings, lakes and wetlands.
The tourism town attracted 828,500 tourist visits in 2019. The original target last year was to hit 1 million tourist visits, but only half of that target was achieved due to the COVID-19 outbreak early last year.
Since trips outside of the country are still restricted due to the global pandemic situation, Hu believes that more Chinese tourists will choose destinations in China's western regions such as Tibet, Gansu and Qinghai for sightseeing and unique ethnic group cultures.
"Tibet's advantages as a destination are its rich ecotourism resources and culture," he says. "But it's a high-altitude region at the early stage of tourism development and related infrastructure should be improved."
This news comes from: China Daily