Japanese ‘tourist tax’ in Lake District criticized

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

LONDON — Japanese visitors to a picturesque corner of Britain are being asked to pay a small levy for the upkeep of the area — the first time a particular nationality has been targeted for donations by conservationists.

Japanese are being invited to make a discretionary payment of £5 (about ¥680) when they book their vacations in the Lake District, which lies about 400 km northwest of London and was home to the celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter.

The payment is designed to help the National Trust conserve the landscapes made famous in Potter’s books.

But the scheme to target Japanese tourists has drawn criticism in some quarters, with claims it is unfair and unnecessary, and that it could drive visitors away from the region.

The “visitor payback” scheme, administered by Nurture Lakeland, has been operating for the last 18 years. Around 200 hotels, businesses and attractions that subscribe to the scheme give visitors the option of paying up to £10 for conservation. Visitors have to tick a box if they want to make a donation when booking.

Because most Japanese visit the Lakes as part of package tours, they do not usually book accommodations independently and therefore do not pay the contribution.

According to the Japan Forum, a group of Lake District businesses that benefit from Japanese tourism, the Japanese Travel Trade group of tour operators wanted to participate in the scheme and include the charge when Japanese book their holiday packages.

“This is a huge gesture of support to the Lake District by the Japanese travel trade,” a forum spokeswoman recently told BBC Radio Cumbria.

While Nurture Lakeland, which collects the money, stresses the levy is discretionary, some Japanese tour operators don’t mention the charge on their Web sites, while others mention the fee but say it is not discretionary.

However, Tiffany Solender from Nurture Lakeland said tour firms do explain all the charges and the fact that the conservation charge is optional. Japanese will have to opt out of the charge rather than opt in.

She said she was sure Japanese would be receptive to the scheme, given the nation’s appreciation of the area.

“The money will go to all the conservation projects around the Lake District, predominantly landscapes which Beatrix Potter used to own, including repairing footpaths near Hill Top farm (where Potter lived and which featured in many of her works), so Japanese visitors can see where the money has gone,” she said.

Nurture Lakeland claims the Japanese Embassy in London backs the scheme and believes “many visitors” will pay the charge.

But Andrew Dobson, who runs Lakes Lodge bed and breakfast and Lakes Supertours in Windermere, said: “The Japanese already pay a lot to come here. They pay money in the hotels, restaurants, tours and entrance fees and, for the privilege of doing that, we are going to hang them for another £5! They might just bypass us. Most people I have spoken to think that it’s an outrage.

“Why are we asking the Japanese to pay back? Have they taken a loan out? The maintenance of the Lake District has got nothing to do with them. If I went to Japan I would not expect to have to pay for the pavements.

“They may think the Japanese are a soft touch. But they have overstepped the mark. Where the money is going is anyone’s guess.”

Dobson, who has many Japanese customers each year, thinks the money raised from the scheme will be a drop in the ocean compared with the cost of looking after the Lake District’s landscape.

But Junko Ishiwata, a tour guide for Mountain Goat Tours, argues that £5 is a small price to pay for the landscape and she thinks her fellow nationals will be happy to contribute.

Japanese started paying at the beginning of this year and so far 3,200 tourists have raised £15,000. The annual target is £25,000. In return for their £5 contribution, Japanese visitors get a pin badge of Peter Rabbit and a certificate.

The first Japanese to receive their pin badges took part in a ceremony May 5 at Wray Castle, where Potter stayed as a youngster and fell in love with the lakes.

The move to target overseas visitors when they make their package bookings could be extended to other nationalities if the scheme proves successful.

The Lake District, notable in British literary history as the home of several poets of the Romantic school, including William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey, is a popular destination for the Japanese mainly because many of them read Beatrix Potter’s tales in their childhood. Around 80,000 Japanese travel there each year.

Her most famous work in Japan is “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” which tells the story of the mischievous rabbit’s adventures in Mr. McGregor’s garden. Peter Rabbit adorns numerous goods in Japan, from credit cards to mayonnaise jars.

Potter moved to the Lake District in 1913. The Hollywood biopic “Miss Potter” has boosted visitor numbers to the area and one tour firm now employs a permanent Japanese guide, given the overseas interest.