Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 6 News List

China delays launch of Tibet train

OFF THE RAILS: Travel to Tibet has virtually stopped amid a security crackdown aimed at preventing unrest linked to anniversaries of anti-Chinese uprisings and riots

AP , SHANGHAI

The launch of the first luxury train service from Beijing to Tibet has been postponed from next month until next spring, the operator said yesterday, amid China’s economic slowdown and a security crackdown.

A reservations staffer for Tangula Luxury Trains confirmed a Hong Kong newspaper report of the postponement, but did not provide further comment. He would not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Other staff authorized to comment were not immediately available.

China’s growth has slowed precipitously in recent months as exports have plunged and the impact is reverberating through the world’s third-largest economy.

The burgeoning market for luxury goods and services is suffering, with occupancy rates at top-flight hotels plunging and brand-name boutiques void of customers, as consumers cut back on nonessential spending.

This latest delay, until the spring of next year, resulted in the loss of about US$2 million in advance bookings, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday, citing a company spokeswoman. So far US$100 million has been invested in the project, it said.

Although the Post said Tangula’s spokeswoman characterized the postponement as a “business decision” that had nothing to do with travel restrictions, travel to Tibet has virtually collapsed amid a security crackdown aimed at preventing unrest linked to several critical anniversaries this year of anti-Chinese uprisings and riots.

China banned travel to Tibet last March amid a revival of unrest and, although restrictions were gradually eased, the number of visitors dropped by nearly half in the first nine months of last year, Xinhua news agency reported.

Tourism revenues plunged 54 percent to 1.8 billion yuan (US$264 million), it said.

“It’s not a good time to visit Tibet now and I think you know the reason,” said Xiao Su, sales manager for the Tibet-China Travel Agency, based in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

“On the one hand, the most beautiful season is yet to come in a few months and also some stores are closed now since there are so few tourists,” Xiao said.

Tangula plans to run luxury trains from Beijing to Tibet and southwest China’s Yunnan Province. The fares are US$3,300 to US$5,000 per person, depending on the route.

Tangula, the first foreign-invested passenger train service in China, earlier postponed the launch of the train service from September last year until next month.

Hong Kong-based Wing On Travel owns a majority stake in Tangula Railtours, a joint venture between Tangula Group Ltd and the state-owned Qinghai-Tibet Railway Corp.

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