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Since the introduction of economic reforms in the 1980s, the Tibetan areas have experienced impressive development. Even though development was initially driven mainly by Han and Hui Chinese, Tibetans have become more and more active.

Especially, recent years have seen a sharp rise in the number of Tibetan entrepreneurs. The numerous monasteries have played an important role in this evolution; through their economic activities, they have had a major influence on the emergence of Tibetan businesses in retail trade and tourism.

Obviously, the Tibetan entrepreneurs are up against fierce competition from well-established businesses from the Chinese lowlands. They lack capital, experience and connections. They have engaged in some activities which are totally foreign to the Tibetan culture.

Tibet: The Hotel Zangxiang, owned and managed by the Geerdesi Monastery in Langmusi, Sichuan.

The Zangxiang Bingguan (literally "Hotel with Tibetan Flavor") owned and managed by the Geerdesi Monastery in Langmusi, Sichuan.

These entrepreneurs operate within the Chinese system which has been enormously successful in allowing farmers to set up businesses and factories; however, this system has been created essentially by and for the Han Chinese culture. The purpose of this paper is to show how it can be adapted to the specificities of the Tibetan culture; actually, this adaptation process is well under way.

Within the context of the Tibetans being a national minority in China, another aspect must be taken into consideration: this development process should also contribute to preserve the Tibetan language, culture and religion. Many national minorities all over the world struggle to preserve their heritage, which is under threat in every state where one ethnic, religious or linguistic group has got a leading role from the demographic, politic and economic point of view. China has implemented many interesting policies to protect and develop the Tibetan heritage. However, development is a dynamic process and requires constant readjustment in order to solve emerging problems or react to new opportunities. Helping the Tibetans to integrate successfully into the economic world of the 21st century is certainly an important aspect of this general development process.

The description of this "development model with Tibetan characteristics" will clearly reveal what we can do to help local entrepreneurs in the Tibetan areas to be successful in the fields of retail trade and tourism. This potential help spans from knowledge transfer and business relations to providing capital and increased visibility. An association will be founded to implement on a small scale some of the measures proposed here in order to check their feasibility.

One of the objectives of the present project is to put at the disposal of policy makers in China and other countries in a similar situation the necessary information to help national minorities develop economically while at the same time preserving and developing their language, religion and cultural heritage. On the other hand, businesses, the academic community and the civil society have also a role to play in integrating Tibetans entrepreneurs into the global economy. Tibetan entrepreneurs have shown that even without help, they can succeed in an extremely competitive environment. This clearly shows that little help can have a huge impact, since it only accelerates an existing trend.