Will Japan Mandate Tourists To Travel With Tour Guides Soon?

Will Japan Mandate Tourists To Travel With Tour Guides Soon?

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Tourists being guided around Japan
Picture: エガワエン / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Is your experience of Japan about to become a lot more regulated? A new proposal would require tourists in some cases to hire tour guides.

Several popular destinations in Japan are struggling with an influx of tourists. The government is considering several remedies – and the proposals include requiring guides at select locations.

The Proposals

Ministry officials held a meeting on September 29th to discuss potential measures against over-tourism.

Proposals included the following.

  • Making it mandatory for tourists to travel with accompanying guides in certain areas.
  • Changing public transportation fees depending on traffic jam hours.
  • Introducing a taxi-sharing system for tourists.
  • Using coupons to guide tourists to less crowded places.

These proposals will become the basis of further talks in October when the government hopes to wrap up with finalized measures.

Lucrative chaos

Talks within the government to combat overtourism began on September 6th.

Several government entities have been part of the meetings including the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, the Japan Tourism Agency, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

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The joint meetings have centered around the negative consequences of Japan’s recovering inbound tourism.

In July Japan had more than 2,320,000 Inbound tourists, or approximately 70% of its pre-covid visitors. The influx of tourists has been a beacon of light for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida who hopes a recovery in Japan’s travel industry will add 5 trillion yen ($34.4 billion) a year to the economy.

The return of tourists has stirred up as much hope as it has complaints from locals.

During government talks regarding overtourism, cases of crowded public transportation systems causing inconveniences for Japanese citizens came up. Officials also brought up incidents of tourists trespassing on private property to take photos.

Proposal 1: mandatory guides

The proposal to mandate tourists to travel with guides in certain areas is a bold idea, and most likely an unproductive one.

However, many tourists these days aren’t using guides. Their go-to source for travel information is, unsurprisingly, their own smartphones.

Approximately 89% of survey participants said that their smartphones were the most useful source of information. Only about 15% said tourist guide centers were helpful, according to a recent survey by the Japan Tourism Agency.  

Proposal 2: public transport fees

Picture: shimanto / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The proposal to adjust ticket prices according to how busy public transport gets during rush hours will likely earn the support of tourist spots like Kyoto. Such cities are already rolling out adjustments to public transit.

Bus rides to famous tourist attractions like Kiyomizu Temple have become so overcrowded that local citizens voiced complaints that they couldn’t get on. In response, Kyoto City decided to halt sales of day tickets for city buses from October and suspend the service permanently starting this coming March.

Proposal 3: Sharing taxis

Introducing shared taxi services is another proposal that will garner much support in Kyoto.

The city has already decided to carry out its own shared taxi trial during this fall season as taxi drivers continue to decrease for the fourth year in a row by 25%.

From the end of September, Kyoto City Taxi Association has been trying out a taxi share service with nine taxi companies cooperating. The trial service applies to the route from Kyoto Station to Kinkaku Temple and will accommodate ten passengers for each ride.

A critical look

Picture: エガワエン / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Professor Nakai Jiro, who specializes in the sociology of tourism, weighed in on the issue of overtourism.

“The lack of manpower in the tourism industry is seen as the main issue when we talk about overtourism. But I think that the issue runs deeper than that with the impact of the weaker yen.”

As the yen continues to drop, hitting an 11-month low against the dollar at the end of September, Japan becomes a more attractive destination for tourists who want to travel cheaply. But according to Professor Nakai, budget travelers come at a cultural cost.

Attracting tourists who visit Japan just for the price benefits poses a threat to cultural architecture because it makes more sense economically to put up strips of hotels, says Professor Nakai.

Get Ready, Japan Tourists – Here Comes the “Tourist Tax”

Sources

[1] オーバーツーリズム対策 ガイド同伴義務づけ案など提示. NHK

[2] 「オーバーツーリズム」実効性高い対策とりまとめる方針 政府. NHK

[3] Japan saw post-pandemic high of 2.3 mln visitors in July. The Asahi Shimbun

[4] 訪日外国人の消費動向. 観光庁

[5] オーバーツーリズム、どう乗り越えるか? 消えかねない文化的な価値. 朝日新聞

[6] 観光客の過度な集中防止 混雑のバスから地下鉄への誘導. NHK

[7] 京都駅から金閣寺へ 9月から乗合タクシー試験的に運行. NHK

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