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Kyoto’s tourism boom spells war for luxury hotel chains

by

Staff Writer

Kyoto’s recent record-setting tourism boom has sparked a mini-“hotel war,” with some of the world’s best-known luxury inn chains opening branches in the ancient capital, as its international popularity as a travel destination spreads even further.

Not too many years ago, Kyoto had a dearth of international first-class hotels. Visitors found a choice of domestic chains, some of which were run-down, with dark lobbies and moldy carpets in the lobby, and dirty, small rooms with hard beds. Or they could opt for a traditional evening in an ancient Japanese-style inn that cost far more and offered a cultural experience, but often lacked modern amenities that today’s international travelers demand.

But one year ago, the Ritz Carlton opened, quickly earning accolades from tourists as well as long-time, slightly jaded Japanese and foreign residents as the place in Kyoto to be seen, either as a guest or simply as a customer in one of the bars or restaurants.

The Ritz Kyoto, however, is expected to be joined by yet another high-end international hotel next spring, when the Four Seasons Kyoto is scheduled to open in the Higashiyama district. That’s not too far from the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, which opened back in 2006. These are joined by several smaller, luxury boutique hotels run by both Japanese and international resort chains that have opened in recent years or have announced plans to do so.

The arrival of top-grade hotels comes as Kyoto’s reputation as a destination for domestic and international tourists continues to grow. Last year, the city was named by the U.S. magazine Travel + Leisure as the World’s best city, beating out Charleston, South Carolina, and Florence, Italy.

In 2013, more than 51 million people visited Kyoto, according to municipal figures. More than 13 million people stayed in hotels in the city that same year, a 7 percent increase over 2012. In total, tourists spent just over ¥700 billion.

One of the largest increases was recorded in the numbers of foreign tourists. About 1.13 million visited Kyoto in 2013, a 35 percent increase over the previous year. Tourists from Taiwan, the United States, China, Australia and France accounted for over 55 percent of the total, with Taiwanese, at 20.8 percent, the largest group.

The news, the city says, is expected to be as good or better once the 2014 figures come out.

“Overall, Kyoto tourism has been increasing these past few years, and 2013 was a record year for the number of visitors. We expect the overall upward tend to continue for 2014,” said Nobuo Hatanaka, a Kyoto municipal tourism official.