"Lhasa is totally illuminated by the sunlight, which makes it much warmer than my hometown," said Yang Kun, a tourist from Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, who went to Tibet in January 2009.
Tibet's scenic winter tourism spots are concentrated around Lhasa and Nyingchi.
Tibet's winter has a unique charm for tourists. They can enjoy warm sunshine in the "Sunlit City" of Lhasa, get the best view of Qomolangma (also known as Mount Everest in the West) and have fun in Nyingchi, which is home to the biggest valley in the world, said Qian Yungui, a senior official of the Tibet Tourism Bureau.
Nyingchi, which means throne of the sun in Tibetan, is located in the region's southeast, where the Himalayas and Nyainqentanglha mountains extend from west to east. With a population of more than 140,000, Nyingchi covers a total area of 117,000 square km. Nyingchi is regarded as the jiang nan (the fertile and prosperous area with beautiful scenery in the south of the Yangtze River) of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau because of its green mountain slopes, snow-capped peaks and crystal-clear rivers.
The average altitude of Nyingchi is around 3,000 meters above sea level while its lowest part is about 900 meters above sea level. It has become the first destination inside Tibet for many tourists since it helps them acclimate to high-altitude conditions more comfortably.
"The feeling of arriving at Nyingchi from the plain area is just like drinking wine, while that of arriving at Lhasa is like drinking liquor," said Wang.
Statistics from the Tibet Tourism Bureau show that Nyingchi received 24,000 domestic and foreign tourists in November 2008, an increase of 4.8 percent from the year before. It was Tibet's first region where tourism increased since the disturbances. Lhasa received 105,000 tourists in the same month, a decrease of 4.62 percent compared with the same period in 2007.
The Tibet Tourism Bureau has collected data for the winter tourism promotion since October 2008, Wang said. With the cooperation of several airlines, hotels and tourism agencies, the bureau provided special offers for tourists. From October 2008 to March 2009, some 430,000 tourists went to Tibet, including 406,000 Chinese and 24,000 foreigners, an increase of 12 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2007.
Ecological and cultural tourism
Eco-tourism is one of the main draws for Tibet, which has introduced a series of eco-travel routes. It has opened special routes that offer hiking in the grand Yarlung Zangbo River Valley, tours in Lhasa and eco-travel to Qomolangma, among others.
The region has taken steps to attract more visitors, including a series of promotions. For instance, tickets to major eco-tourism destinations will be offered at a 40-percent discount, while hotels and restaurants will slash prices by 50 percent.
Another important attraction for local tourism is the Tibetan culture.
Shannan Prefecture is known as the birthplace of the Tibetan people and the source of Tibetan civilization. It has many firsts—the first king Nyatri Tsenpo, the first palace Yumbu Lhakang, and the first temple, Samye Temple—and is renowned as having Tibet's longest history. The well-known Tubo Regime, a historic period in Tibetan history, was also derived from the agricultural civilization in Shannan.
Shannan enjoys a comparatively mild climate. The prefecture covers an area of around 80,000 square km, with an average altitude of about 3,600 meters and a total population of 290,000. Tibet's biggest international airport, Lhasa Gonggar Airport, is located in Gonggar County, Shannan Prefecture.
From January to July 2009, Shannan welcomed 315,668 tourists, an increase of 123 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2008. Total revenues generated by tourism reached 8.12 million yuan ($1.19 million), an increase of 176 percent, according to the Tourism Bureau of Shannan Prefecture.