The city of Kyoto, visited by over 50 million tourists each year, is making a greater effort to attract wealthy foreign travelers by offering cultural workshops to satisfy their appetite for deeper engagement with their destinations.
With visitors already at record-high levels, the ancient capital is shifting focus from quantity to quality, targeting the higher spending associated with high-end tourism.
According to city data, Japanese travelers, excluding those on day trips, spent about ¥47,000 ($420) per person in 2016, about half the ¥100,000 spent by foreign tourists.
“We would like to revitalize our traditional industries and the local economy” by winning the hearts of wealthy foreign travelers, a municipal official said.
As part of this effort, Kyoto has joined hands with Kanazawa, another major tourist destination, to organize a study tour for American travel agents pitching trips to rich customers in November.
In Kyoto, two women were introduced to cultural programs including kimono wearing, sake brewery tours and tea ceremony. The city hopes the pair will organize their travel plans based on their experiences in Kyoto.
“Wealthy tourists have a strong intellectual appetite. They want to experience unique traditional culture in their destinations by directly communicating with local experts,” said Takeshi Tanaka, an interpreter-guide authorized by the city.
Some temples in the city have started offering Buddhist meditation classes in English for a small number of people, and more craft centers are holding workshops on making folding fans and pottery while talking with artisans. These places have proved popular among wealthy travelers, Tanaka said.
The city also set up an organization with other cities and areas including Sapporo, Nara and Ishikawa Prefecture in April 2016 to jointly focus on wealthy tourists.
“In the past, tourism promotion was done by each region in Japan and lacked an attitude to promote the whole of Japan,” an official from the Kyoto Municipal Government said. “We will work together to bring more foreign travelers by combining the attractiveness of each destination.”