Terrie's Take 990 (Tourism Edition) - Three Ways to Control the Flood of Tourists in Kyoto

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon May 20 21:25:45 JST 2019

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie Lloyd, a
long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. (

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, May 20, 2019, Issue No. 990

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+++ Three Ways to Control the Flood of Tourists in Kyoto

Two and a half years ago, in August 2016, I wrote an article (
about the swarming crowds in Tokyo and Kyoto, and a probable backlash
against foreign tourists in coming years. Now in 2019, the media is thick
with reports on the problems that too many tourists cause to the local
goodwill and infrastructure of those destinations. Usually, this is in the
context of too many Chinese tourists in Kyoto, but it is also increasingly
being applied to the swarming of regional festivals (e.g., Nebuta in
Aomori) and events, overloading of urban services (transport, trash, and
parks seating space), and even the proliferation of Japanese-owned snack
shops that sell and encourage visitors to stroll and eat yummy but
accident-prone, sticky food.

In 2017 there were something like 3.53m overnight stay foreign visitors to
Kyoto - the most desirable type of tourist - and some portion, probably
about 10m (our guess based on Kansai Airport arrivals), of day trippers. So
about 14m foreign visitors a year. While this sounds like a lot, in fact,
other medieval cities in Europe, with equally narrow streets and unplanned
city layouts, seem to cope. Holland's Amsterdam gets 19m tourists a year.
London gets about 20m (2018). And Paris, the big kahuna, about 40m (2017).
So Kyoto in some respects should consider itself lucky.

The most obvious way to deal with the over-tourism of key Japanese cities
such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto would seem to be to move tourists away from
them and out to the regions, where they are actually still wanted and
needed. The government has certainly made more marketing money available to
such locations, and starting from next year, we believe there will be a
major escalation of funds as the authorities finally decide how much of the
exit tax they are really going to apply to inbound promotion. But honestly,
all the marketing in the world won't do much if the regions don't start
first doing something about accommodating the extra tourists they are
wishing for. Everything ranging from better access for international LCC
airlines so that tourists don't all have to land in Osaka and Tokyo,
through to providing better accommodation, activities, and payment options
across the prefecture.

In the meantime, tourists would rather go where they know they will be
entertained - Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

In Holland, they are following the softly-softly approach. The city there
with the biggest tourism overflow problem is Amsterdam - and local
residents have been getting increasingly vociferous about their desire the
rein the tourist numbers back in. The Dutch tourism authorities don't want
to kill the golden goose - much the same as the Japanese seem to be
thinking - so their strategy is to make Amsterdam less attractive and less
accessible than in the past, while simultaneously stepping up the
visibility, desirability, and access to secondary towns and cities across
the country. For example, last year they took down the famed "I Love
Amsterdam" sign (Ed: shame, my kids loved taking photos there.) They are
also started posting signs every where as part of the "Enjoy and Respect"
campaign to educate visiting tourists how to behave and get along with the
locals - things like not treating Amsterdam as a party zone and not
urinating or vomiting in the streets - under punishment of drastically
increased instant fines.

Of course, this may not work in Japan, where locals love to vomit and pee
just about anywhere, especially after 10pm at night... Oops.

Anyway, the Dutch call their worst type of tourist, "Liam." In profile,
"Liam" comes from the UK, is aged 18 to 24 years old, and wants to party
outrageously in Amsterdam every weekend. The "Enjoy and Respect" campaign
is targeted at him, so it is primarily in English and posters are plastered
all over the airport and public transport centers helping "Liam" understand
that he is being watched. Along similar lines, the Japanese problem is with
"Zhang Wei" - although the age profile is somewhat older and the basic
problems are more cultural than aged related.

In a reasonably well-defined tourist magnet city like Kyoto, maybe the
answer is to be found in a more draconian approach as is being tried out in
Venice, another iconic city that draws a huge number of both day visitors
and cruise ships every year. In September this year, Venice will introduce
a 10 Euros visit fee targeting the 15m day trippers (versus people who
actually stay at hotels in the city). In particular, this fee will be
applied to the roughly 12m cruise ship passengers (6,000 ships a year!) who
do little more than buy a gelato or a cheap souvenir and who otherwise
spend most of their budgets onboard. Venice has some even more radical
ideas in mind, and plans to regulate tourist numbers by selling tickets
(not just fees) to visit - offering people who didn't win the ballot to
enter on their preferred dates an option to travel to the city in less busy

Another solution example, moving from the scope of an entire city to just
the major attractions (think Kinkakuji and Kiyomizudera in Kyoto), we can
look at the Gaudi-inspired Park Guell in Barcelona. In 2013 over 9m people
visited the park and reduced it from being a quiet green space to becoming
something reminiscent of Shinjuku station at 11pm at night. Local residents
were up in arms over the noise and inability to take their kids to the
park, and the council decided to close off access and sell tickets for
tourists to visit. Although this meant fencing off a formerly public space,
the result was remarkable, and the number of visitors fell to a much more
manageable 2.3m people annually, with a much better spread of visitors
outside the peak months. Then of course there was the 23m Euros flowing
into local coffers to pay for park upkeep and wardens.

While these solutions are simple and would be based on precedent overseas,
I fear that they could also inspire a wave of greed by lesser locations
that suddenly see ticket selling as a way to top up their own coffers. We
have seen similar herd mentality with DMOs, precious few of whom will
actually deliver any results for the vast sums being spent. So once the
we-can-make-money herd starts moving, how can Japan control it and not kill
the Golden Goose? One answer could be to require the ticket selling to be
licensed by one of the Ministries in Kasumigaseki: either the Ministry of
Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism (MLIT), which is the parent
ministry to the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA), or the Ministry of Finance,
which has power as the controller of the nation's finances. Either way, I
feel it's not unreasonable to ask tourists to pay for access to the best
(but not all) locations that the country has to offer.

In fact, I often tell people that Japan is the "world's biggest Disneyland"
- in that everywhere you look, there is some visual or taste stimulation
going on that is both compelling and a strong reminder that this is a
unique place. Given that, and if the Japanese government does get a taste
for ticket sales of public spaces, then the next step must surely be season
passes, books of tickets, and my own favorite - fast passes. This would be
a lucrative aggregation business for the JTA, who would become a kind of
ticketing, reservations, and payments clearing house, a sort of public
utility that controls and regulates the monetization and access to Japan's
public tourism resources.

BTW, Tokyo Disneyland had 30.1m visitors in 2017, in a space far smaller
than Kyoto. Just a wild idea, but why doesn't the government look at
putting Oriental Land and Disney's expertise in crowd management, to work
in Kyoto?

...The information janitors/



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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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