The Tibetans traditionally depended upon agriculture for survival. Since the 1980s, however, other jobs such as taxi-driving and hotel retail work have become available in the wake of Chinese economic reform. In 2011, Tibet’s nominal GDP topped 60.5 billion Yuan (US$9.60 billion), nearly more than seven times as big as the 11.78 billion Yuan (US$1.47 billion) in 2000. Economic growth since the beginning of the 21st century has averaged over 10 percent a year.
While traditional agriculture and animal husbandry continue to lead the area’s economy, in 2005 the tertiary sector contributed more than half of its GDP growth, the first time it surpassed the area’s primary industry. Rich reserves of natural resources and raw materials have yet to lead to the creation of a strong secondary sector, due in large part to the province’s inhospitable terrain, low population density, an underdeveloped infrastructure and the high cost of extraction.
The collection of caterpillar fungus in late spring / early summer is in many areas the most important source of cash for rural households. It contributes an average of 40% to rural cash income and 8.5% to the TAR’s GDP.
The re-opening of the Nathu La pass (on southern Tibet’s border with India) should facilitate Sino-Indian border trade and boost Tibet’s economy.
It was reported that the per capita disposable incomes of urban and rural residents in Tibet averaged 12,482 Yuan (US$1,798) and 3,176 Yuan (US$457) respectively.