See this link for our most up-to-date info on Tibet travel restrictions.
Not 24 hours after I assured one of my roommates that Tibet would remain closed until at least September, the Tibet Tourism Bureau has decided that tomorrow (20 June 2012) they will begin processing Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) applications for foreigners heading to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) again, after closing last month in the wake of continuing protests and self-immolations.
It seems that the Tibet Tourism Bureau will continue to institute what I hereby dub the Ethnically Congruous Popularity Caveat: in order to get a Tibet Travel Permit, you must be traveling in a group (of either four or five travelers, depending on the source), and you must all be of the same nationality or part of the same family. This will certainly come as an inconvenience for travelers who weren't already planning on going with a group. No doubt these less-popular (or perhaps, happily solitary) travelers are now digging through forum threads looking for groups to attach themselves to; lucky for them, this is a common problem, and the internet is alight with people looking for companions. Most agencies will be scrambling to bundle tours together, so you don't necessarily have to seek strangers out on the internet (my Mom always told me that was a bad idea). But seeking individuals out yourself can help prevent getting paired with a weirdo (like, for example, a surly Scotsman who prefers to laze about the hotel in nothing but a tank top). Thorn Tree would be a good place to start. More on Tibet travel restrictions after the jump....
The other thing of note is what I will henceforth call the You Were Never Invited To My Birthday Party Anyway Caveat. This one effectively bars Austrian, Korean, British and Norwegian passport holders from entering the TAR entirely. Take that, Austrians, Koreans, Brits and Norwegians! It is likely that this is the government's response to perceived snubs in the international arena, though without an official announcement, it seems highly unlikely we'll ever hear an official reason for the ban.
But while we're talking about it, there are a few things that might have had something to do with it. Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in advance of his 2012 UK visit; Norway ruffled a feather or two with their pesky Nobel Peace Prize (this one really stung, apparently, as it was back in 2010); Austria caused some huffing and puffing in May after talks between Chancellor Faymann and the exiled spiritual leader; and the presence of Tibetan exiles at the recent World Fellowship of Buddhists conference in South Korea ended with the Chinese delegation leaving early.
So for most people, traveling to Tibet is again an option. There are—surprise surprise!—a few restrictions on even those who do get granted permission to travel in the TAR. The far eastern region of Chamdo remains closed to all travelers, as they have been since 2010, and the Mt. Everest base camp will continue to be off-limits to foreigners. But there is still a lot to see in the open sections of the TAR, and even more in Tibetan regions elsewhere in China.