Inbound Ambassador

Staggering the Crowd Adds Value

Japan’s tourism pollution, or over-tourism, is no longer a problem that can be ignored. As the numbers of inbound visitors continue to climb its time to start thinking about positive strategies might be the most effective.  Staggering is one method of spreading visitors out upon entrance to attractions. This article discusses how implementing good strategy can enhance the visitor experience while helping attractions and destinations better manage crowds.

DMO’s and government tourist offices in Japan seem to be slow to suggest or advise proactive management policy to control crowds. To be fair, at first glance,  it seems counterintuitive to try to discourage growth in a new industry that shows so much potential to become a significant influence on GDP.

The push for tourism management reform, however,  may come to shove if the most popular destinations follow worldwide trends. In April (2018), we saw as Venice was in the news for attempting to limit access to its floating city over Easter weekend by installing turnstiles. The method to limit visitor numbers was due to an ultimatum made at the end of 2017 that the destination risked losing its UNESCO world heritage status if it couldn’t demonstrate control over numbers.

There are many similarities between Venice and many destinations in Japan, especially those with UNESCO world heritage sites, dwindling populations and increasing numbers of visitors. Locals are feeling pushed out by the crowds, yet the shopkeepers and local DMO’s argue there isn’t a problem to worry about as they feel overly dependent on tourist revenue and pressure to keep numbers growing. Another parallel between many Japanese cities and Venice is tourism booming too fast and too soon due to mass-tourism drop-offs of cruise ships. DMO’s, government officers and local business seem passionate about the argument that more visitors necessitates larger economic gains. Making compromises to welcome cruise ships without first forecasting the costs and inadequacies of existing infrastructure is short-sighted. These floating cities can drop thousands of visitors to a destination in a single swoop. Tour buses create similar problems for destinations inside cities. 

Besides an outright ban, there may be less obvious and less controversial ways to slow down the number of visitors to destinations.

Stagger the masses

Every popular destination experiences overcrowding in some areas at some times of the day. But even at that very popular destination, not all of the streets, shrines or attractions are busy at the same time. If there were some way to stagger too many visitors at one time, visitors would enjoy the experience more, staff would feel less pressure, and deal with fewer complaints, and the cultural and environmental integrity of a destination could be better protected.

For example, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum is in the long process of renovation and a common complaint of visitors is that there are too many people around for them to fully appreciate the excellent exhibits. School group students were particularly mentioned on a few occasions by international visitors I interviewed as being disruptive to their experience. Large groups of students in uniform entering at the same time were noisy and rather disrespectful they felt while they were quietly looking at exhibits inside the museum.

Maintain Maximum Capacity Limits

So, based on this information, I would suggest to the museum that they open earlier and stay open later and only schedule school groups during off-peak times of day when there are fewer guests to disturb. Peak times should also be a time to set limits on maximum carrying capacity. But how many is too many? There are formulas available to calculate the number of people per total space of a facility. But this may be inaccurate as each attraction has varied ability to absorb visitors regardless of overall size. So, I think the best method would be to correlate data between the number of total entrants with the length of stay and quality of the visit.

If we have a look at tourist facilities that successfully manage crowds, there are many great examples at efficiently run amusement parks in Japan like Tokyo Disney Land and Disney Sea.

Fast Pass

Disney’s famous ‘fast pass’ system is a good example of managing crowds.  For example, upon arrival at the Hiroshima peace park, in a similar fashion to a theme park, people would first go to the museum to buy a ticket. At the ticket office, they would have sufficient information to either choose to wait in line where an estimated time to wait is clearly posted, or be given a time frame to return later if they would prefer to enter quickly. The same theory could be applied to temples, shrines, restaurants and any other attraction at a destination.

Enter through the gift shop or museum

Another idea that I’ve seen effectively used at Seattle’s Space Needle and New York’s Empire State Building is to stagger visitors upon entry by winding the entrance through the gift shop or up a few sloping floors of memorabilia. Groups pausing to buy souvenirs, learn about the history of the attraction and take selfies is a great way to stagger entrance without making visitors feel like they are simply waiting in line.


日本では「観光汚染」(tourism pollution)もしくは「過剰観光」(over-tourism) の実態は無視する状態を超えてきました。インバウンドの来客者数がうなぎ登りするなか、効果的な対策をどう講じるべきか考える時期になりました。人気スポットへの入場制限が訪問者を効率よく少なくする方法の一つです。ここでは人気の観光地や目的地により良い対策を導入することで満足度の高い経験を観光客に与えることをみていきます。







Translation by Associate Professor Andrea Kitahara / 翻訳:準教授 北原アンドレア

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