Japan’s Miyajima island introduces tax on visitors to help curb ‘dangerous’ overtourism

Julian Ryall

Miyajima, one of Japan’s most popular tourist sites, is planning to introduce a new entry tax on visitors to fund new infrastructure as well as curb overtourism, which a local official has admitted is becoming “dangerous”.

Miyajima, in the Inland Sea off the city of Hiroshima, is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, which appears to float on the waters of a narrow bay at high water. The island has long been popular among Japanese travellers, and was named one of Japan’s top scenic sights as early as 1643.

With a growing number of domestic and foreign visitors, however, Miyajima has become overcrowded at the busiest times of the year, such as cherry-blossom season in the spring and fireworks festivals in the summer.

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The local government, which spent Ұ900 million (US$8.2 million) on a new ferry terminal for tourists in 2019, has now announced that it is considering imposing a tax of Ұ100 (91 US cents) on all visitors.

“There were more than 4.6 million visitors last year and the popularity of Miyajima has really risen since it was listed on the Unesco World Heritage list [in 1996],” said Emiko Maruko, a spokeswoman for the city’s tourism division.

“Right now, Miyajima is always in the top things to do in Japan on the Trip Advisor website so it’s often very busy,” she said.

“There are lots of things that we want to do to improve the island for visitors, so the city is considering this new tax. We don’t think there is overtourism all the time, but there are definitely times of the year when there are too many people and levels of overcrowding there are dangerous.”

Kyoto has introduced a per-night tax for those staying at hotels in the city. Photo: Lucy Dayman

A number of other famous sightseeing spots in Japan are also introducing levies for tourists in an attempt to limit numbers. Kyoto has introduced a per-night tax for anyone staying at a hotel in the city, while the operators of the popular sightseeing boats that navigate the Takachiho Gorge are raising rental fees after it was pointed out that a sharp increase in tourists meant some people had to wait nine hours to hire a boat.

Industry insiders predict that as the number of inbound tourists continues to grow, other must-see destinations may choose to introduce similar levies.

“Countrywide, the number of foreign visitors is not a problem at all,” said Ashley Harvey, general manager of destination management firm Aviareps Japan.

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“There were 35 million tourists in 2019 and if they were spread out over the 3,000km from the far north of Japan to the far south, then that is not a problem. The problem is of extreme concentration in a small number of areas, so the challenge for the domestic industry is achieving regional spread and seasonal spread.”

Harvey said there would always be tourist hotspots, such as Tokyo or Kyoto, and there was a school of thought that the “relatively small levies” were actually a good thing.

“Paying a little more may mean that only people who are genuinely interested in a destination will go there and that a destination will get a more appreciative customer,” he said, adding that reducing prices for certain special interest groups such as pensioners or school groups or at less busy times of the year would ensure that visitor numbers remained steady.

“But it is also important that any revenue that is generated from these sorts of schemes is ploughed back into the tourism sector to make it increasingly sustainable, rather than just going to a city’s general account.”

This article Japan’s Miyajima island introduces tax on visitors to help curb ‘dangerous’ overtourism first appeared on South China Morning Post

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