Cost increase in Tibet Travel

Guge Kingdom

April 2016: The costs of traveling to Tibet have just increased due to a new controversial government regulation.

Tibet Travel Costs to Increase


Since the early part of 2015, there have been rumors that major changes were coming to Tibet tourism. The rumors were that there would be a new “Tibet Transportation Co-Op” which would provide all of the vehicles used for tourists in Tibet. Over the years, the vehicles used in Tibet tourism have come from both transportation co-op’s as well as travel agencies who owned their own vehicles and private drivers who were licensed to carry tourists. A new regulation, that has gone into effect this week (April 2016), will now have one main travel co-op in charge of nearly ALL tourist vehicles in Tibet. This “co-op” just happens to be backed by the Communist government.

Tourist vehicle costs in Tibet have stayed roughly the same for the past 6 or 8 years. The high season demand, from June through early October, usually makes tourist vehicles cost 25% to 40% more compared to the low season. However, the new “Tibet Transportation Co-Op” has the complete freedom to charge whatever they want as they now completely own the market on tourist vehicles. Starting from last year, the Tibet Transportation Co-Op has stated that they would be significantly raising the per kilometer rates of tourist vehicles. Most travel agencies expected the price raise would be about 50% more than what the rates have been the past several years. Unfortunately, travel agencies found out recently that the price raise would be much, much higher.

Starting this month, the cost for tourist vehicles in Tibet in the high season months from June through October will be nearly 3 times as much as what they have been in previous years. Even in the low season months, the costs will be nearly double compared to what they have been. This is a much bigger price increase than travel agencies expected. All travel agencies in Tibet must abide by this new regulation. This regulation is NOT made by travel agencies, but is set forth by the government. Travel agencies have no choice but to follow this new (and ridiculous) regulation.

What does this mean? This means that travel to Tibet just became even more expensive. Tibet already is an expensive place to travel and it just became more expensive. When I saw the new prices for tourist vehicles, which are based on a per kilometer rate, I could not believe what I saw. I was completely shocked. I called several travel agency partners across Tibet yesterday and all of them are worried about tourism this year due to the high costs the government is demanding on tourist vehicles.

Many agencies are having to contact customers who have booked tours in Tibet for later this year and are having to break the news to them that their tour price is going to have to increase.  If you receive an email from a travel agency stating that your Tibet tour for later this year has increased in price, please understand that it is NOT the travel agency’s fault. The price increase is far more than travel agencies were told. This new vehicle regulation comes straight from the top government and travel agencies have no choice but to follow it. Travel agencies, many of which already struggle to stay in business, will lose large amounts of money if they do not adjust their tour prices. I too, am having to contact a handful of clients who are traveling with me later this year to try and explain the situation to them.

The new “Tibet Transportation Co-Op” has set different vehicle rates depending on the time of year. The lowest vehicle prices are the months of November, December, January and early February (be advised that Tibet is closed to foreign travelers each year from mid February through the end of March). The prices during these months are still considerably higher than what prices have been in the past, but are much lower than what the new high season rates are. The next cheapest time to travel in Tibet are the months of April and May. The high season months of June through the end of October are the most expensive, with rates being nearly 3 times what they were in 2015.

I know this may be difficult for some of you to understand as you probably come from a free country where there are a lot more freedoms. But in Tibet (China), the government heavily regulates business, especially tourism. If you have any questions about this new policy, please feel free to email me and I will happily explain the situation more:

13 thoughts on “Cost increase in Tibet Travel

  1. Ellen

    Is this just a way to minimize the number of foreign tourists to Tibet in favor of Chinese tourists? Without closing Tibet to foreign tourists? I know last summer many Tibetan guides lost their guide licence also.

    1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Actually, this new regulation will affect all tourists to Tibet….both foreign and Chinese. With Chinese tourists making up over 95% of the total tourists to Tibet, it actually affects them more. Travel agencies are now hoping that the Tibet Transportation Co-Op will come to their senses and realize the prices they are demanding for vehicles is ridiculous. Though it is very slim, there is a possibility the Tibet Transportation Co-Op could reduce the vehicle costs.


      1. Ellen

        But how will it affect Chinese tourists? Because they don’t need a permit to travel in Tibet and they can use local transport.

        1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

          Last year the TAR received nearly 17 million tourists. Of that number, over 96% of them were domestic Chinese travelers. Though Chinese travelers can use public transportation in Tibet, the vast majority of them do not use it and use a private driver. The reason is that public buses just drive through the scenic places, such as Yamrok Lake, Karo La Glacier, Namche Barwa, etc. Public buses do not make stops along the way, but merely drive from Point A to Point B with limited (if any) stops. The overwhelming majority of Chinese tourists the past 10 years use private driver and use travel agencies in Lhasa that specifically cater to domestic Chinese tourists. Just because Chinese travelers do not require on organized tour in the TAR does not mean they do not use private vehicles…..quite the opposite.


          1. Ellen

            That is correct but they can use any private vehicle. It doesn’t have to be a vehicle with license (L-plate). Doe they have to pay the same high price for this vehicle as foreign tourists?

          2. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

            Again, the majority of Chinese tourists use a travel agency to arrange their tour of Tibet. These travel agencies cannot use any privately owned vehicle as they, like travel agencies that arrange tours for foreigners, MUST use vehicles approved for tourism. This means that Chinese tourists who use a travel agency for their tour in Tibet (which again is the majority) also have to pay the increased price in tourism vehicles. By no means is this price price directed at foreigners, who make up less than 5% of the total amount of tourists to Tibet. This price increase will affect foreigners and Chinese travelers both. I spend at least 3 months in Lhasa each year for the past 14+ years (several years in Lhasa accumulatively) and can tell you from my own experiences that millions of Chinese tourists use travel agencies in Tibet to arrange tours in Tibet.

  2. Daemo

    Such a shame, This increase puts Tibet out of reach for a lot of western travellers. Though I guess this is what the Chinese government is trying to accomplish.

  3. Viacheslav

    Another thing I worry about. Does new regulation means that travel agency from now cannot work with “their usual drivers” the ones they works in past. In other words driver will be appointed by “Tibet Transportation Co-Op” ?

  4. PeiJy

    Hi, I learnt that the new rules are out. Are you able to advice how much does it cost now to rent a car (guide aside).


    1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      The car price is based per kilometer and depends on the type of vehicle you book. There are 6 or 7 different types of vehicles that the Tibet Transportation Co-op has, each with a different per kilometer price. For a price estimate on a Tibet tour, you will need to contact a travel agency.


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