Among the 31 provincial-level regions that had revealed their 2018 economic achievements as of Wednesday, Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region ranked first with 10 percent GDP growth on a year-on-year basis.

It was the only region that achieved double-digit growth last year amid a nationwide economic slowdown. Last year was also the 26th consecutive year of double-digit growth for Tibet.

In 2018, Tibet’s GDP reached 140 billion yuan ($20.84 billion), up 10 percent from 2017. That was well above the national rate of 6.6 percent, the regional government’s work report said on January 10.

While 10 provincial-level regions in China reported GDP growth of less than the national figure, Tibet made some remarkable gains. For example, the general public budget was over 23 billion yuan and per capita rural disposable incomes rose 13 percent year-on-year.

Improvement in infrastructure construction and a tourism boom were the two main drivers of Tibet’s expansion, analysts told the Global Times on Wendesday.

“There is huge potential to develop the economy through tourism,” Zhang Lingyun, director of the Tourism Development Academy at Beijing Union University, said.

“The beautiful natural landscape, people’s curiosity about the local culture and Tibetan Buddhism offer a great basis to develop the tourism industry,” Zhang said.

“Moreover, many young Chinese now seek peaceful holidays instead of shopping,” Zhang noted.

Zhang said that Tibet provides both domestic and international tourists an opportunity to return to nature. He added that social stability in Tibet brought more tourists to the area.

Last year was the first time that the number of tourists exceeded 30 million in Tibet, up 31.5 percent year-on-year, Qizhala, chairman of the regional government, said in his government work report delivered on January 10 at the second session of the 11th People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region. He said that tourism revenue grew 29.2 percent year-on-year to 49 billion yuan in 2018.

Tian Yun, vice president of the Beijing Economic Operation Association, said if Tibet could maintain its positive development in the tourism sector and protect its environment, it would achieve continuous GDP growth for many years.

As of 2018, Tibet had created 667,000 jobs related to environmental protection. These jobs also alleviate poverty.

In addition to the tourism boom, infrastructure construction in Tibet has brought the region more opportunities to cooperate with South Asian countries, such as Nepal.

Tibet’s 2019 government work report said the region will improve infrastructure construction connectivity with Nepal to open channels toward South Asia. Such projects involve infrastructure in Gyirong county and Pulan county.

In 2018, an economic forum on trans-Himalayan cooperation and the 16th China’s Tibet-Nepal trade conference were held.

These events helped the Lhasa Comprehensive Bonded Area and Gyirong Border Economic Cooperation Zone achieve substantial progress, the report said. It added that the overall output value of all levels of industrial parks hit 25 billion yuan.

However, bad roads restrict two-way trade between Tibet and Kathmandu, a Lhasa-based businessman, Yi Su, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Yi Su, who has been involved in foreign trade in Lhasa for 27 years, attributed Tibet’s outstanding economic results to the government’s infrastructure construction. He also said that he expected better infrastructure projects in Tibet.

He exports electric appliances, textiles and daily necessities from the port of Gyirong county, Xigaze, to Kathmandu. Electronic appliance brands such as Changhong, TCL and Haier are popular in Nepal and 95 percent of the electronic appliances in Nepal come from China, according to Yi.

“The distance between Lhasa and Gyirong county is around 600 kilometers, and it takes one day to transport goods by road. However, it’s 147 kilometers from Gyirong to Kathmandu, but the trip takes 15 to 16 hours,” Yi said, adding the government has invested heavily on roads and railways to develop Tibet.

Zhaluo, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed. “Building roads in grass-roots villages is a priority of infrastructure work in Tibet, because most of the main highways and roads have already been built,” he told the Global Times on Wednesday. “Other infrastructure projects such as local government offices and public toilets are being built in Tibet as well.”

Next year, Tibet aims to increase its foreign trade by more than 10 percent and its border trade by more than 30 percent under the BRI, the local government said in its work report.