could soon rival Monte Carlo in the number of five-star hotels, as
China looks to woo well-heeled visitors to the Tibetan capital.

The Financial Times reports on several plans for upscale tourism projects ($) that have followed the opening of the direct railway link to Lhasa last year — see this EngagingChina story for more on the world's highest rail journey.

An expatriate American opened Lhasa's first high-end boutique hotel
last year. It will soon be joined by bigger projects, including one to
be managed by Starwood Hotels under its St Regis brand, and one from
Singapore-based Banyan Tree Holdings.

Starwood representatives told the FT the St Regis was expected to
cost at least $40m and have at least 169 rooms, including 50
villa-style suites and a presidential suite. InterContinental Hotels
could also go back in Lhasa after pulling out ten years ago following
foreign activists' protests about Chinese rule in the Tibet region.

Tourism to Tibet is soaring thanks to the new railway line. Nearly
2.5m visitors went to the region last year, up 40% from 2005 and local
tourism officials expect to host 3m to 4m this year. Nearly 90% are
domestic travellers so even if westerners choose to boycott travel to
Tibet, the economic impact is likely to be small.

Last November, Lhasa also got its first Motorola phone store.
The result of a partnership with a local retailer, the new Motorola
store offers Tibetan consumers “a unique and exciting new opportunity”
to get the most out of their mobile handsets, according to the US firm.
Motorola opened over 150 of its own-branded stores across China last

Elsewhere on the tourism front:

  • According to China's National Tourism Administration, 34m Chinese travelled abroad
    in 2006, a 10% rise on the previous year. That's more than the entire
    population of Canada. No wonder foreign convention and visitors bureaus
    are making a big effort to attract Chinese visitors. Looking inward,
    China saw 124m inbound tourists in 2006, a rise of 3.4% year-on-year.
    The number of foreign tourists rose 8.5% to 22m. More on CVBs wooing
    China in this post.

  • Chinese tourism to Finland increased by 30%
    in 2006, helped by Helsinki's advantageous position on the edge of
    Europe, the increase in Asian services by Finnish national carrier
    Finnair, and the overall growth in travel between Europe and Asia. A
    typical Asian tourist usually spends two or three days in Helsinki, the
    capital of Finland, although presumably not many choose to brave
    February's sub-zero temperatures and snow.

  • Ctrip, the leading Chinese travel services firm, could be one of
    the big beneficiaries of the growth of China's domestic travel
    industry.Traditional agencies have been limited to a local presence and
    the hotel booking market highly fragmented. But Nasdaq-listed Ctrip
    boasts a nationwide supplier network and lists around 4,400 hotels. In
    2007, it plans to develop the packaged-tour business and corporate
    travel services, and expand into China's second-tier cities In 2006 its
    revenues rose 49% to 834m yuan. More financial results here.

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