Tibet's architectural icon, the Potala Palace, will allow no more than 2,300 visitors a day, an increase of 800 visitors over the previous quota, a local tourist official has said.
Visitors traveling in tourist groups will be restricted to 1,600 a day and no more than 700 individual visitors will be allowed in, said Zha'nor, deputy director of the Tourism Administration of the Tibet Autonomous Region, at a press conference Thursday evening.
Despite the quota increase, many tourists will be turned away, said Nyima Cering, head of the regional department of cultural relics.
Tourism authorities could not provide an estimate of how many tourists line up everyday to get into the palace but the limit on visitors is often reached by mid morning.
The policy has been in place since July 19, an official with the tourism management department of the Potala Palace told Xinhua on Friday.
Potala Palace raised the daily number of visitors from 1,500 to 2,300 on July 1 when the Qinghai-Tibet railway opened.
The new limit was set after consultations between tourism and cultural relics protection authorities, he said.
"A limit on the number of visitors is necessary for the protection of the Potala Palace," the official said.
He attributed the increase in the number of visitors to the maintenance efforts on the ancient architecture in recent years.
The Chinese government spent 55 million yuan (6.875 million U.S. dollars) repairing the palace between 1989 and 1994. Another major repair work, involving 180 million yuan (22.5 million dollars), started in 2002 and is scheduled to be completed next year.
A project aimed at improving the environment of the surrounding areas of the Potala Palace will be finished in late September.
First built by the Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo in the 7th century, the Potala Palace was expanded in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama, who ruled Tibet from the 13-storey building on Red Hill, 3,600 meters above sea level.
The Potala Palace, which was the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas, features the essence of ancient Tibetan architecture and art, and houses countless artifacts. Both the Potala Palace and Norbu Linkag, the summer palace of Dalai Lamas, are on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Experts estimate the number of tourists to Tibet will grow by 15-20 percent a year now as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has opened. A total of 2.5 million tourists are expected in Tibet in 2010 and 6 million are projected to visit in 2020.
Tourism is the main industry in Tibet. Official statistics show that in the first quarter of this year, the number of tourists to Tibet increased 1.8 percent from the same period in 2005, with 3,274 overseas tourists providing revenue of 1.81 million U.S. dollars.