Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Op-Ed Response to Nikkei Article on Overtourism in Japan

My op-ed response, Flood of Inbound Tourism Must Not Flood Japan discusses innovation and ideas to help solve some of Japan’s overtourism problems it is facing due to the recent boom of inbound tourists.

The Japanese version here:日本語

The Nikkei Asian Review article, Japan gets more than it bargained for with tourist boom, highlights the important discussion of the downside of Japan’s rapid increase in international tourism.

A lot of the issues I read in the article about the lack of benefit for locals financially, and in terms of lifestyle quality, are certainly mirrored across the globe in destinations struggling with handling a sudden growth in travelers.

Creating more transparency in tourism policy as well as setting up regular discussions between local destination management, business owners and community groups can help implement changes that improve the overall benefits to society.

Tourism needs a better policy balance as many residents only see the inconveniences of the boom without any benefit. Finding ways for locals to retain a decent quality of life and actually benefit from tourism is vital.

Kyoto has been a focal point of local dissatisfaction – a destination that already has a healthy level of domestic tourism is now receiving additional millions of inbound travelers – for example, 7.4 million in 2017.


A quick and easy low-cost initiative to improve the atmosphere and quality of life is to pedestrianize high-traffic areas. The authorities can ban nonlocal traffic including tour buses from Kyoto city center.

Tourist inflows can be made more socially acceptable with special perks for residents. For example, Nishiki Market in Kyoto as well as temples and shrines, should impose taxes and/or entry time restrictions on visitors, with special passes for local residents. Visitors who stay for more than 3 nights could also have access to similar passes to encourage longer stays and less intensive sightseeing.

Crowd control measures such as setting higher prices for foreign tourists than domestic visitors, staggered entry and blocking access when attractions are full should all be trialed. Carrying capacity is an important issue at key sites not only to improve the visitor experience and ensure safety but to decrease damage to traditional structures and the natural environment.

The fact that numbers of foreign visitors are increasing in Kyoto, but tourist shop sales down show that limiting the times that international tourists can have access is warranted for the long-term sustainability of at least some local businesses. Even blocking busy shopping streets once they reach capacity and diverting crowds to alternative routes could be effective.

The authorities should discourage the quick hit from day-trippers and encourage stays of more than two nights. For example, any hotel booking for fewer than three nights could have an additional ‘short-stay tax’ imposed which could benefit local infrastructure and facilities.

The Japan Rail Pass, which offers foreign visitors discount travel, has been a great convenience, but it encourages too much day-tripping at the expense of longer stays and slower travel. To be fair, It’s not just non-Japanese that travel like this; I’ve met Japanese travelers who want to see all the sights of Europe in 3-4 days.

Hub destination metropolis like Tokyo and Osaka have the capacity to provide a quick, superficial experience for day trippers. But smaller destinations should be choosy and reward travelers who stay for more than two nights.

Also, there is more to Japan than Kyoto. There are other destinations that offer authentic Japanese nature, culture, and atmosphere. The key is to launch social media campaigns and build sustainable tourism infrastructure in these areas to attract controlled numbers of visitors.

The key to creating sustainable-tourism in any destination is to develop plans in a clear and transparent way with an aim to benefit the local people and the local economy in a way that does not overly strain local resources or create pollution (noise included).