Kyoto and tourism pollution

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Kyoto cherry blossom

Cherry blossom time in the old imperial capital city of Kyoto – one of many reasons luring visitors to the city

Joining a number of other destinations around the world like Venice, Boracay in the Philippines and Barcelona is Kyoto, the Japanese city that was once the capital of the country.

It is concerned about the behaviour of visitors in the Gion-Shinbashi area of the city where relations between visitors and locals has reached the point where a committee of locals has been set up to encourage more courteous behaviour. The object of their concern is those people taking selfies.

The committee says that selfie-takers take far too long setting up their photos, they block the area whilst people politely stand aside so they don’t mess up the photo and they congregate at the popular attractions.

There is more to the moans of the locals than just selfies. Not so long ago, the Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau introduced an advice note for visitors asking them not to cycle in the city while drunk, hassle Geishas and to treat old temples with respect.

Like many other destinations around the world affect ted by tourism pollution, (the euphemistic expression is “over-tourism,”) Kyoto is trying to persuade visitors to see lesser-known parts of the city. It is all well and good trying to do this but visitors – most of whom from Europe and North America will only do this once or twice in their lifetimes – want to see the sights that the guidebooks, the films and documentaries highlight. Seeing an attraction tucked away may appeal if there are just one or two on an itinerary but that will not satisfy those who want to see Kyoto as they have come to know it.

Somehow destinations have to manage the expectations of visitors better and I don’t just mean Kyoto. It is impractical if not downright fraudulent to promote a destination using its most attractive assets and then to say that these are premium spots or unavailable at certain times or to place other visitor restrictions on them. Without those assets, tourists might not visit in the first place. Destinations want our money but to deny us or make it difficult to see the reason that converted us to visit one place rather than another is more than likely to deter others from visiting.

Imagine a Michael Palin, a Joanna Lumley or some other travel celebrity making a series about a destination. A destination would show them the crown jewels of the place. That is of no use if the rest of us are unable to see the same.

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