Japanese travelers are avoiding Kyoto as the city’s number of foreign visitors continues to grow

Hotel operators say the ancient capital’s beautiful temples have a newfound image as congested and inconvenient.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, Kyoto is pretty much a must-add to your itinerary. While it may not be the nation’s political capital any more, it remains very much the heart of Japan’s cultural traditions, and its beautiful temples, shrines, and gardens are exactly the sort of images that grace the covers of travel guides and then stay in the hearts of visitors.

At the same time, however, Japanese travelers who’re planning a trip within their home country are increasingly staying away from Kyoto. A recent study by the Kyoto City Tourism Association and Kyoto Convention Bureau found that in December of 2018, the number of Japanese people staying at major hotels within the Kyoto city limits had dropped by 12.2 percent compared to the same month in 2017. For November, the compared-to-2017 drop was also a sizable 10.7 percent, despite it being the height of the fall color season, when travelers traditionally flock to Kyoto to see the changing leaves. As a matter of fact, December 2018 was the 21st consecutive compared-to-the-previous-year monthly decrease.

Similar things are happening with the annual number of Japanese travelers staying in Kyoto. In 2018, the surveyed Kyoto hotels hosted 2,062,716 Japanese guests, 4.8 percent fewer than they did in 2017. That was the fourth annual drop in a row, following decreases of 4.8 percent in 2017, 3.8 percent in 2016, and 4 percent in 2015, according to the study.

So what’s causing Japanese travelers to stay away from Kyoto? According to hoteliers the researchers interviewed, a huge factor is the huge crowds. While Kyoto seems to have lost some of its appeal for domestic travelers, it’s more popular than ever with foreign visitors. The same surveyed hotels which saw a 4.8-percent drop in Japanese customers for 2018 saw a 5.3-percent bump in overseas guests, who totaled 1,229,030 for the year.

Particularly if they’re first-time visitors, those foreign travelers are going to be headed to Kyoto’s most famous sightseeing spots, and filling up the buses, trains, and subway cars that go there. That extra congestion runs counter to the quiet elegance that’s long been seen as Kyoto’s primary attraction, making it a less desirable destination for domestic travelers who, with a more in-depth knowledge of their own country, are more aware of other, less-famous options to get their temple-and-shrine fix.

While the City Tourism Association isn’t complaining about welcoming more foreign visitors, a spokesperson for the organization said they would ideally like to see a balance in the number of foreign and Japanese travelers coming to the city. An over-reliance on foreign tourism could hurt the city’s hospitality industry if, for instance, a natural disaster elsewhere in the country were to make international travelers shy away from Japan as a whole, as happened following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake ad tsunami.

If there is a silver lining, one hotelier claims that despite Kyoto’s newly acquired stigma as a crowded place for sightseeing, it’s actually become easier to find a place to stay in the city, as recent years have seen a number of new hotels, inns, and hostels open. Still, if you’re planning a day of temple visits in Kyoto, it might be a good idea to take after the monks and start your day early, before everyone else is up and heading to the same spot as you are.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News/Kyoto Shimbun via Hachima Kiko
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