Campaigners protested outside the InterContinental Hotel on Park Lane in London yesterday at plans to open a five-star hotel in Tibet.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) looks after around 4,500 hotels in more than 100 countries and is planning on opening a five-star resort in Lhasa, the administrative capital of Tibet, in 2014.
But members of the Free Tibet campaign group are promoting a boycott against the group, claiming the new development “gifts priceless PR to the Chinese regime responsible for gross human rights abuses throughout Tibet”.
Campaigners carried banners demanding that the chain withdraws from Tibet and also distributed leaflets that quote a US Department of State report on human rights practices in 2012, which states that repression in Tibet was “severe” and that there were 83 self-immolations by Tibetans over the year.
They want IHG to pull out of the deal to build the 1,100-room hotel, which the campaigners say will be called “Lhasa Paradise”.
The hotel is not the first luxury property to be built in Lhasa. The first was the five-star St Regis Lhasa, which opened in 2011 and is owned by the same group as the Lanesborough in London. There is also a Shangri-La expected this autumn.
At the time of the St Regis Lhasa’s opening, tourism was responsible for almost 15 per cent of Tibet’s economy. The Chinese government said it wanted to attract 10 million visitors to Tibet in 2012, and 15 million a year by 2015.
Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of Free Tibet, said: “IHG’s marketing will sell the image of an ancient Tibetan culture which in reality is being systematically destroyed by China.
“Describing Lhasa as a “paradise” while its Tibetan inhabitants fear imprisonment, torture or worse for speaking out against the regime, is a gross insult to their struggle for freedom.”
IHG said it has met with Free Tibet campaigners in the past to listen to their concerns.
“We take our commitments to human rights and creating local economic opportunity very seriously” a spokeswoman said. “The InterContinental Lhasa will be held to our high operational standards and policies, which include recruiting, training and developing hotel staff.
“IHG’s hotels create jobs and drive tourism income in the communities where they operate, thereby helping to increase living standards in Lhasa and wider Tibet.”
Last July, Chinese authorities announced plans to build a theme park in Lhasa which would create a “living museum” for Tibetan culture and relieve pressure on existing attractions in old Lhasa. This was also met with opposition.
When two Tibetans set fire to themselves outside Jokhang temple in Lhasa in protest at human rights abuses last year, the Chinese government announced one of many temporary bans on foreigners visiting the region.