Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Are we ready for a Luxury Hotel in Tibet?

I have mixed feelings about this new hotel.  Lhasa, the Capital of Tibet, has a new luxury hotel.  The St Regis Lhasa Resort stands "on the roof of the world" in close proximity to UNESCO World Heritage Sites Potala Palace and Norbulingka, the hotel offers all the comfort and luxury one expects from the St. Regis brand. 

But Tibet is a victim of Human Rights violations and oppression.  The Chinese refer to their invasion of Tibet as the "peaceful liberation of Qamdo."  In fact, there are parts of the world that don't recognize Tibet as a nation at all, but part of China.  When I was in Bhutan, which borders on Tibet, I realized not one map showed Tibet to the north.  It was all China.

And now, China invades again. Regular flights, a high-tech rail connection, and Chinese-guided tours bring wealthy tourists to what was once the home of the his holiness, the Dalai Lama.  "The St Regis Lhasa Resort offers refined luxury and superlative service in a storied city," gushes the breathless blurb on the St Regis website.  Tibetan activists feel that the influx of tourism will destroy Tibet's distinctive culture, and that the Tibetans will not be able to get jobs, or their share of the income.  They feel the spoils will go to the Han Chinese, who see Tibet as having a spiritual essence not found in other parts of China.

St. Regis, and Starwood, are less concerned with politics as they are with promoting Tibet as a "go to" destination.  And it is.  So my question, the thing that troubles me constantly, is this:  in this case, does tourism shine a light on a serous problem?  Or does it contribute to the erasing of another culture?

I do want your thoughts, and look forward to the conversation.


  1. Guess FB ate my reply - Yes, the locals will disappear into a sea of McDs and SBs to keep the tourists happy ; (
    Yes and influx of money in poor areas is good on one hand, but not on the other and in the end, they continue to suffer, no matter what ; (

  2. Years ago, I studied about the life cycle of destinations, from "discovery" to peak, to decline. There are ways to avoid the destruction of cultures, and there is a wonderful tour operator in China who is completely sensetive to Tibet as a separate nation. Thanks for your comment, Michael!

  3. I hope it doesn't turn out like most countries -
    Seems sad if it does - Cheers!