China has imposed a temporary ban on tour groups to Tibet and has not said when they would again be permitted.


The ban was imposed amid protests and unrest there as anti-Chinese mobs smashed and torched cars, shops, homes, banks, government schools and offices.


Streets were strewn with debris and looted goods, with the historic Barkor commercial centre among the hardest hit. The area’s warren of streets and alleys lead to the Jokhang, Lhasa’s 1,300-year-old Buddhist cathedral and a main draw for tourists and pilgrims.


“Tourism facilities ... have suffered considerable damages in the riot, lowering the reception capability,” said Wang Songping, deputy director of the Tibetan tourism bureau. “Of course, this would affect Tibet’s tourism to a certain extent, but it’s only temporary.”


Despite the setback, Wang said authorities were “very optimistic” of meeting a full-year target of 5.5 million domestic and foreign visitors this year — more than double the size of the region’s permanent population.

Tourism has skyrocketed in Tibet since the start of rail service two years ago, with the Himalayan region receiving four million visitors last year, up 60 per cent from 2006. The crush of sightseers has forced authorities to limit visits to some sites, including the Potala, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

An agent with government-owned China Youth Travel Service said Tibet’s tourism bureau had banned tour groups from travelling to the region starting on March 13 and forbid tour buses or other vehicles from entering Lhasa.

He said authorities had not said when the ban would be lifted, but estimated it would last at least through the end of March.

“No tour companies have been permitted to receive groups,” said the agent, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to media.