LHASA, April 24, 2008 -- Tibet received its first domestic tour group since the March 14 unrest on Thursday evening, another sign the region was returning to normal.
The 15-member tour group from the eastern city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, arrived at the Lhasa Railway Station at about 9:50 p.m.. Each was presented with a hada -- a long white silk scarf used as a greeting gift in Tibet -- by staff from the travel agency.
But they were soon put on a bus headed for a downtown hotel, declining to answer questions raised by reporters.
The tour group, including three women and 12 men, was arranged by the Tibet Century International Travel Service. They came by train from Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, which borders Tibet.
"The group was originally scheduled to come here before March 14, but was delayed due to the unrest," a tour guide surnamed Zhang told Xinhua.
"We were notified by the regional tourism bureau a few days ago that we could re-arrange the tour group."
He said the tour group would visit the Potala Palace and Norbu Lingka Palace in Lhasa on Friday, and the Yamdroktso Lake on Saturday morning, one of three holy lakes located about 100 kilometers southwest of the Tibetan capital.
"They will leave Tibet on Saturday afternoon," said Zhang, without providing further details.
"Tourists needn't worry about their trip in Tibet, and we can ensure good services for them, such as catering, hotel and transport," said Zhanor, deputy director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Tourism Bureau.
"Tibet will keep its image as a safe, healthy and civilized tourist destination," he said.
Zhanor revealed that another three tour groups comprising 34 domestic tourists arranged by travel agencies will visit Tibet on Friday, Saturday and this coming Tuesday.
But he did not say when Tibet will reopen to overseas tourists.
With the resumption of businesses and classes, Lhasa was recovering from the riot believed to have been organized, premeditated and masterminded by the Dalai clique.
The unrest, involving violent crimes against people and property, led to the deaths of at least 18 civilians and one policeman.
It also left 382 civilians and 241 police officers injured, businesses looted, and residences, shops and vehicles torched.
The regional government stopped issuing tourist permits to overseas travelers and the tourism authorities suggested travel agencies postpone organizing tour groups in the wake of the riot. It cited safety concerns and the reconstruction of tourism facilities around scenic spots damaged in the unrest.
Independent domestic travelers have not been prohibited from entering the region.
The remote southwestern Chinese region has seen a tourism boom in the past few years, especially since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway on July 1, 2006, which has linked Tibet with the rest of China for the first time by train.
Tibet received 4 million tourists from both home and abroad in 2007, up 60 percent from 2006. The tourism revenue reached 4.8 billion yuan (687million U.S. dollars), accounting for more than 14 percent of the region's gross domestic product.
In the first two months of the year, the tourism business grew robustly in the region, greeting 110,000 tourists, including 6,000from overseas, up 60 percent year on year.
The March figure is not available for now, but March is usually not the tourism peak season for Tibet.
As signs of recovery from the riot, Tibet's architectural icon, the Potala Palace, re-opened to tourists on March 26, and religious activities were returning to order in Lhasa's monasteries.
Tubdain Cewang, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People's Congress, said the monasteries would re-open to tourists in the near future.
Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the regional government, told a meeting on Tuesday that local authorities must increase policy and financial support for the tourism industry and make greater efforts to promote Tibetan tourism in the country.
"As a next step, we must attract more people elsewhere in the country to come here for travel," he said.