On January 10th 2019, at the opening day of the 2nd session of the 11th Tibetan People’s Congress in Lhasa, Chinese officials released an annual report detailing the arrival of 33.68 million tourist to Tibet. The Chinese government refers to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as Tibet, a territory consisting of less than half of the actual traditional landmass of Tibet.
In June 2018, Xinhua, the Chinese government-run news agency, reported that TAR received 5.6 million tourists.
Statistically, if TAR received 5.6 million tourists in the first five months, from January to May of 2018, it means that, in the remaining seven months it received 28.08 million tourists, which is an astoundingly high figure and rather unconvincing. Actual tourist season in Tibet begins from May to September. The first five months, when actual tourist season has not started, TAR receives 5.6 million visitors. From October to December, the figure of tourists who visited Tibet would be lesser due to the cold winter. During the three months of winter, not more than the 2 million tourists would have visited Tibet. In the freezing winter, not only tourists in Tibet, but also migrant workers return to their home in mainland China. Therefore, according to the estimated figures released, Tibet is visited by 21 million tourists in four months, from June to September.
Generally, researchers and scholars on China and Tibet face difficulties in relying on every statistical data produced by the Chinese government. There are politics involved for why the Chinese government claim high figures of tourist arrivals in Tibet.
In other words, projecting high figures of tourists in Tibet benefits the administrative promotion of local officials and to receive higher amount of state grants to develop tourist sites.
A Washington Post article by Simon Denyer and Congcong Zhang published in 2016, argue that the high figures of tourist’s visiting Tibet and the data released might have been manipulated. They contend that the numbers just don’t add up as released by the government’s officials in Tibet. The numbers actually reflect the number of person-visits. In other words, if someone visits three places in Tibet, such as Lhasa, Shigatse and Nyingtri, they will be counted three times.
Projecting Tibet’s economic development in sophisticated figures by the Chinese government is deceptive strategy. Published figures does not seem to be the actual facts and remain figures only.
Dr. Rinzin Dorjee is a research fellow of the Tibet Policy Institute, a research center of the Central Tibetan Administration. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the TPI.