National

Travel survey bumps Kyoto from world's top tourist spot

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Kyoto fell from its perch as the world’s top tourist city in survey rankings compiled by the influential U.S. magazine Travel + Leisure, which dropped Japan’s ancient capital to No. 6. Charleston, South Carolina, claimed the top spot.

While the reasons for the fall were not explained, city officials suggested that the huge crowds of foreign and Japanese tourists visiting its popular temples, shrines and gardens as well as its major downtown shopping districts, might be the cause.

The result of the recent tourism boom has been often long lines in shops and restaurants, as well as traffic gridlock that has created apprehension among municipal emergency workers concerned about fire trucks and ambulances trying to get through Kyoto’s narrow streets.

There have also been growing allegations of price-gouging, with some English-language travel websites posting reader comments warning that Kyoto jacks up prices during peak periods such as April’s cherry blossom-viewing season or the late autumn months.

Kyoto’s popularity in recent years has created a surge in demand for hotel rooms. A survey of 27 major hotels by the Kyoto Convention Bureau last year showed their occupancy rate over the January to December period was around 89 percent. During seven months, it went over 90 percent, and in November, the occupancy rate reached 94 percent.

A 2014 city survey of foreign tourists showed that, while they rated the city’s service industry highly and enjoyed its traditional culture, many had concerns and found the tourism infrastructure for overseas visitors lacking in some areas.

Visitors were dismayed by the crowds and by language communication problems, especially on Kyoto buses as well as the absence of foreign language material and explanations at temples and art museums.

They also complained that tourist attractions and stores closed early and that entrance fees to temples and shrines were high. The city has since increased its effort to provide more foreign language information.