Tourism in Tibet | Occupation is No Vacation

In November 2010, the St. Regis Lhasa Resort opened its doors to guests, boasting 200 luxury rooms, an on-site butler, a spa, numerous restaurants, and countless amenities. This would be considered luxurious in anyplace but in Tibet, a formally independent country occupied by China in 1949. Occupation is no vacation and tourist operators need to understand that business in Tibet is not business as usual.

Under Chinese occupation, Tibetans’ basic human rights are regularly violated, including their internationally recognized right to control their own land and resources. Since 1999, the Chinese government has pursued its “Western Development Plan,” encouraging large-scale migration of Chinese settlers into Tibet and extending business opportunities to foreign companies. This plan is intended to help China consolidate control over Tibet and attract foreign direct investment to finance its occupation.

The operation of the St. Regis Lhasa could exacerbate the abuses that Tibetans face unless immediate measures are taken to ensure business is conducted in compliance with their needs and interests.

Students for a Free Tibet has contacted the CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Fritz van Paasschen, and the owners of  the St. Regis property with our concerns. We requested more information on the St. Regis Lhasa’s operation to determine if this luxury hotel could truly be part of the solution in empowering Tibetans in Tibet, rather than part of the problem in contributing to their further marginalization under Chinese rule.

Discrimination and intimidation tactics on the part of Chinese officials has made it increasingly difficult for Tibetan guides and tour operators to compete with Chinese businesses. In 2010, Dorje Tashi, a successful Tibetan hotelier, was sentenced to life imprisonment following a closed-door trial. Chinese authorities have yet to publicly release the details of his alleged crimes. No tourist operator should collaborate with the Chinese government in repressing the basic rights of Tibetans – or others – and Starwood’s executives need to think carefully about the implications operating in a conflict could have on their brand name and corporate reputation.

Economic development that brings an end to the decades of marginalization and repression suffered at the hands of the Chinese government and respects their right to control this development is welcomed by Tibetans. However, businesses that fail to both address the deep-seated inequalities Tibetans face under Chinese occupation and respect Tibetans’ political, cultural, and religious rights, will only intensify the injustices that Tibetans suffer. The Holiday Inn, British Petroleum, and KFC are amongst the corporations that have canceled their business plans or withdrawn from Tibet after facing intense public campaigns from Tibetan rights organizations.

We hope Starwood and the St. Regis owners’ will do the right thing.

Read More:

Tibetans Target Starwoods AGM Over New St. Regis in Lhasa

A Joint Open Letter to Investors of IHG from Free Tibet Campaign and Students for a Free Tibet:

Tibetans and Tibet Supporters Target InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG)’s AGM

Read more about this effort led by Free Tibet Campaign:


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