KYOTO – A necessity for improving Kyoto’s tourism infrastructure or a bad decision that might convince tourists to go elsewhere?
That is the question being asked in Kyoto following an announcement by the city earlier this month that it plans to levy a lodging tax of ¥200 to ¥1,000 ($1.80 to $9) per night on most visitors starting in autumn 2018. The proposal is expected to pass this week.
Kyoto’s new tax structure covers all facilities, including minpaku (private lodging), regardless of their rates. With the exception of students on official school trips, all visitors face a per-night tax of ¥200 for any facility that charges up to ¥20,000 a night, ¥500 for facilities charging between ¥20,000 to ¥49,999 a night, and ¥1,000 for those charging ¥50,000 or more.
Tokyo introduced its own lodging tax in October 2002, charging ¥100 to ¥200 per person per day for rooms costing ¥10,000 or more. Osaka followed suit in January this year, introducing a tax of ¥100 to ¥300 for rooms costing ¥10,000 or more.
What makes Kyoto’s proposal different is that it extends the surcharge to those who stay at facilities that cost under ¥10,000 a night. Also, the ¥1,000 charge for the top-end hotels and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) is five times Tokyo’s and three times Osaka’s for comparably priced rooms.
Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa defended the plan by saying that, while the city may in a tourism boom now, Kyoto must be proactive in anticipating the need for more revenue to improve tourism facilities.
He also pointed out the problems presented by the massive increase in visitors over the past few years, especially the piles of garbage and the clogged roads, streets and public transportation.
“It’s not as simple as saying that, because the financial situation is tight, we’re going to place the burden on tourists. (The new tax system) is about improving the level of tourist satisfaction and creating a good experience, and convincing Kyoto residents to continue to live within the city,” Kadokawa told reporters in announcing the tax.
How, exactly, the extra tax revenue will be used has yet to be decided.
A committee submitted a report to the mayor last month, saying the money might be used for cultural restoration and the preservation of assets, improving scenery by removing telephone poles, and introducing more pedestrian zones. The city assembly has just begun formal debate on the tax.
Some smaller Kyoto businesses that have benefited from the influx of visitors are worried the new levy will negatively affect cheaper hotels and minpaku, and drive more budget-conscious visitors to hotels in neighboring Osaka, only 30 minutes away by train.
“Restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other business get visitors, especially foreign visitors, who stay at the cheaper business hotels or minpaku in the surrounding area. I’m worried my own place might see fewer customers with the new tax,” said Madoka Otani, 56, who runs a small restaurant north of Kyoto Station.
Kyoto received over 55 million visitors in fiscal 2016, with more than 14 million spending at least one night in town, including about 3.18 million foreign visitors.
A shortage of hotel rooms has encouraged cheap minpaku lodgings to sprout up all over Kyoto — and the internet is rife with stories of price-gouging. A growing number of visitors to Kyoto also stay in Osaka, where capacity hovers between 80 to 90 percent, depending on the season.