China has banned foreigners from traveling to Tibet for the second time in a year and just 10 days after two Tibetan Buddhist monks self-immolated in Lhasa, the capital of China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
Agence-France Presse reported that the Tibet China International Tour Service had been "asked to stop organizing foreign groups to Tibet in late May."
“The tourism bureau asked us to stop organizing foreign groups to Tibet in late May. We don't know when they will lift the ban,” an employee at the Tibet China International Tour Service was quoted as saying by AFP.
China imposed a similar ban on travel to the region from mid-February through March, a period encompassing the Tibetan New Year and the anniversary of mass demonstrations against Chinese rule on March 10, 2008, according to the website Phayul.
Tibet was also closed to foreign tourists during the 2008 protests.
Voice of America cited travel agents as saying the ban — which had not been officially explained — could be planned to coincide with the Saka Dawa festival.
The monthlong commemoration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing usually attracts tourists and Buddhist pilgrims.
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Another agent, from the Tibet China Youth Tour Service, said the ban might also be linked to the "recent social order problem," AFP reported.
Justin Francis, chief executive and co-founder of Responsibletravel.com, which organizes trips to the Himalayan region, told the travel industry website eTN that:
"News of a foreign tourism ban to Tibet risks raising concerns of a repeat of 2008, when travelers were twice banned from visiting the destination.
"Given renewed strains in the political relationship between China and Tibet in recent weeks and marked escalation in protest, this new, seemingly unexplained ban will raise alarms in the back of the minds of travelers and the tourism industry about what is going on on the ground."
Jim Eite, of Exodus Travels, reportedly said: "Following weeks of chopping and changing regulations and restrictions to visit Tibet, either entering overland from China or Nepal, the local authorities have announced a blanket ban."