Recent rule changes in Tibet stating that only groups of at least 5 people from the same country can form a group, and most recently that Tibet is closed to English, Norwegian, Austrian, and South Korean nationals due to these countries hosting the Dalai Lama (for how long who knows), make our job as a travel agent an absolute logistical nightmare, not only these hoops we are made to jump through, but the situation “on the ground” brings us very much into the spotlight by various Tibet activists about our morality in visiting “occupied” Tibet.
As a company that deals almost exclusively in the more controversial parts of the world, these are thoughts never too far from our minds. Now this is not a political blog, nor are we a political company, but recently we have been getting grief from Tibet activists over twitter regarding taking tours to Tibet. Now as I said this is not a political post, so I will keep my opinion here as brief as possible. Generally Tibetan activists abroad that I have met, or spoken too, tend to be of a similar demographic, mind set and nationality. Most have not been to China, or Tibet, and almost all have far stronger feelings about “cultural” genocide, than actual genocide happening in various countries, and all are rather silent about our western allies in the middle-east that have some of the most questionable civil rights records in the world. Tibet is a cool subject. Brad Pitt spent 7 years there after all. This is not to say that I am a supporter of what is happening there. I am very pro the people of Tibet, but the situation on the ground is far more complicated that many in the west are happy to acknowledge.
Now as for the case for going. Firstly the Dalai Lama has not come out against tourism to Tibet, and there is no mass movement against it, such as there was with Myanmar. Secondly whilst people talk about the very true impact of Han Chinese that have moved to Tibet, it is still predominantly a Tibetan ethnic area. Tibetans that rely on tourism to survive. I know this because I have been to Tibet, use Tibetan companies, and have real Tibetan friends, something armchair activists rarely do is actually try to find out what local people think. It is all very well thinking that bringing more poverty to an already impoverished region will lead the masses to spontaneous revolution, but history has alas taught a different lesson.
If you want to know the real Tibet, you need to go yourself, handing out pamphlets outside the Chinese embassy, watching 7 years in Tibet, and learning Yoga is just not the same thing.