In this post, you will learn how to choose and connect with a good Tibetan owned travel agency.
2022 Travel Advisory: As of August 8, 2022, various cities in the Tibet Autonomous Region, including Lhasa, Shigatse, and towns near Mt. Kailash, are reporting COVID cases, which has resulted in restrictions and mass testing. It is therefore likely impossible to get any kind of travel permit for Tibet for the foreseeable future. We will always update you as restrictions lift. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.
As you may know, travel in the Tibetan Autonomous Region — the “T.A.R.” region that includes Lhasa, Everest and Mt. Kailash — requires that you be accompanied by a guide through a registered agency for each day of your trip. You also require a driver for all the days when you venture outside of Lhasa.
Even in the non T.A.R. regions of Kham and Amdo, where it is not required that you travel with a guide, it is advisable to hire one. These regions are not set up for backpackers the way that many of us are familiar with.
The big question then is how to choose a good Tibet travel agency.
To start with, did you know that it’s best to choose a Tibetan-owned agency?
Why Choose a Tibetan-owned Agency?
It’s a win-win, for you and local Tibetan businesses.
You will have a more authentic experience traveling with a Tibetan guide and driver on your trip. The great majority of travelers love their Tibetan guides, because they tend to be kind, fun-loving people who know their country and take good care of their guests.
There is the huge advantage, too, that when you hire a Tibetan-owned agency, you are spending your tourism dollars supporting local Tibetan people and businesses.
You may not know how critical your support is to Tibetans. As of January 2015, there were 150 registered tourist agencies in Lhasa. 110 of those agencies were authorized to serve international travelers. Of those 110, only about 20 were Tibetan owned.
In general, the Chinese-owned agencies serve Chinese travelers, bringing them to Chinese-owned restaurants, hotels and shops.
Since over 95% of travelers to Tibet are Chinese, the Tibetan-owned agents tend to work only with the much smaller number of international travelers.
But not all international travelers choose Tibetan agencies, mostly out of ignorance. It’s hard to tell online which agencies are actually Tibetan owned, especially because the Chinese owned agencies actively try to look and sound like they are locally owned.
The bottom line is that many Tibetan-owned agencies rely on international travelers to sustain their businesses, and that by choosing a Tibetan-owned agency, you are supporting not only the owners of the agencies, but also guides, drivers, cooks, Tibetan hotel owners and Tibetan restaurant owners.
It’s worth nothing that a number of the Chinese agencies that pretend to be Tibetan do hire some Tibetan guides (and sometimes drivers) — because they know Westerners want Tibetan guides.
But if you care about the local Tibetan economy, we recommend that you make sure that you book with a bona-fide Tibetan agency. That way, the bulk of your money does not go to the Chinese owners.
The more non-Chinese travelers book with Tibetan-owned agencies, the more Tibetan ownership and hiring can grow. For now, many Tibetan guides and drivers have no choice but to work for Chinese companies, because there are simply not enough Tibetan agencies to work for.
If you would like help to connect with a reliable travel agent who will help you plan your trip to Tibet, fill out the short form here >>
How to Choose a Good Tibetan-owned Guide
It is surprisingly hard to pick out good Tibetan-owned agencies from online searches. The Chinese-owned agencies work very hard to appear local and Tibet-friendly — even the ones associated with the Chinese government-owned CITS. A CITS agency once emailed us, asking to be put on our list of recommended Tibetan-owned agencies in Tibet, no joke!
The popular travel forums (like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet) can help somewhat, but the information is a bit tainted by the number of travel agents in there promoting their own stuff.
It’s frustrating for a traveler, but the only way we know of is to get a recommendation or two for Tibetan-owned agencies from a trusted source, and then research the companies’ reviews online.
We’ve been working in the Tibet travel space since 2013, and you can benefit from our connections and experience if you wish. Early on we connected with one of the top agencies in Lhasa, through a friend, and now have excellent relationships with a handful of the best, most reliable and service-oriented Tibetan-owned agents.
To be connected to one of our trusted Tibetan-owned agents, fill out the travel inquiry form here, as best you can. (It’s okay if you don’t know when or where you want to go yet, they can help.) We’ll then match you to one or two agents and they will get back in touch with you shortly.
Disclosure: We earn a commission if you decide to purchase your trip through the agent we refer you to. We value your trust, and our reputation and good word, and so only give referrals to companies that we consider to be among the very best in Tibet.
Disclaimer: YoWangdu has made every effort to find a superb travel agent for your trip. We find this agency in particular to be trustworthy and focused on great customer service. However, we can’t and don’t guarantee the services provided by this agent. We are not part of any agreements you may make with the travel agent and we have no responsibility for any loss or damage of any nature that may result due to your agreements with the agencies, or for any aspect of your trip to Tibet.
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