Potala Palace Lhasa
The Potala Palace in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. Reuters

A group of activists have launched a campaign that will boycott all hotels under the InterContinental Hotels Group (NYSE: IHG) brand over the company’s plans to open up a resort in Lhasa. The campaign is being led by Free Tibet, a non-profit organization that campaigns for the “end to Chinese occupation of Tibet,” among other things, and is backed by the Students for a Free Tibet group.

The campaign is urging the hotel group withdraw its plans for a vast 2000-room resort in the Tibetan capital, calling the hotel a “PR coup for the Chinese government.” The group believes such a development will detract from the concerns and human rights issues of the Tibetan people have and will further marginalize the Tibetans. “InterContinental’s marketing portrays Lhasa as a paradise and trades on images of an ancient Tibetan culture which in reality is being systematically destroyed by China,” Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of Free Tibet said in the report.

According to a report in the Guardian, the project, which would formally be called the InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise, is slated to open its doors to tourists in 2014 and is still under construction. China’s central government is planning to capitalize off of Tibet as a tourist destination, setting a future target of 15 million tourists a year by 2015, and projects like the InterContinental hotel will help attract visitors.

So far, it seems to be working. According to China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency, the number of tourists visiting Tibet has increased by more than 20 percent to 10.6 million travelers in 2012 compared to year before. Tourism revenue has also risen by roughly 30 percent, earning 12.65 billion yuan, or $1.8 billion.

Activists, however, are not as keen on the tourist developments in the nation, which, they say, mostly only benefit the dominant ethnic Han Chinese, rather than the local Tibetans. “The presence of an upscale multinational brand such as InterContinental gifts priceless PR to the Chinese regime responsible for gross human rights abuses throughout Tibet,” Byrne-Rosengren said.

When plans for the hotel were first brought up in 2010, IHG held a meeting with Tibet advocates. Free Tibet refused to meet with the hotel group again unless the company detailed specifics on the economic benefits Tibetans would be able to reap from the project.

An IHG spokesperson responded to the boycotters saying that human rights issues will not be ignored by the multinational company. “We take our commitments to human rights and creating local economic opportunity very seriously. All IHG employees have signed on to our code of ethics and business conduct and our human rights policy,” a spokesperson said.

Still, Free Tibet seems skeptical. “IHG and China will take the profit: Tibetans will wash the dishes. Intercontinental Hotels are parasites in their so-called paradise,” Byrne-Rosengren said.

Beijing still insists that human rights issues that are reported in the area are “groundless” and that investing in tourism efforts will help boost the local economy and ultimately improve the area's living standards. Statistics from Xinhua show that the Tibetan economy grew 12.2 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.