Tibet receives record number of visitors

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BEIJING, Oct 19 (Reuters) More then 3.2 million people have visited Tibet so far this year, breaking all records and doubling tourist spending in the Himalayan region, thanks to a new railway and airport, state media reported today.

The tourists spent 3.89 billion yuan (8 million), an increase of 90.1 per cent from on the same period last year.

''Since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and promotion efforts, the tourism industry has boomed,'' Xinhua news agency said. The railway opened in July 2006.

Most the tourists were domestic but 325,870 came from overseas -- a rise of 155.4 per cent.

Tibet, which now has three airports, noted a one-fifth rise in flights over the summer.

China, which expects the number of tourists visiting Tibet to reach 6 million in 2010, is building a fourth airport in Ngari in the west, which will be the world's highest.

Tibetan activists have warned that tourism and migration by Han Chinese could swamp Buddhist Tibet's distinctive culture, as an increasing numbers of Chinese set up business.

Maintaining social stability is a key concern for the ruling Communist Party, particularly in ethnic minority regions such as Tibet, from where its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled in 1959 after a failed uprising.

The Dalai Lama received the the US Congressional Gold Medal this week, infuriating China.

REUTERS SYU KP1022

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