KYOTO – As residents and tourists in Kyoto complain more about higher prices, hotel shortages and crowds at train stations, shrines and temples, Kansai’s corporate leaders are searching for ways to keep visitors coming.
One way, they suggested recently, is to ensure people can experience what they call “Kyoto culture at night.” The G-rated, family-friendly version, that is.
Earlier this month, a panel of executives at a Kansai economic meeting in Kyoto discussed the need for more things to keep tourists entertained at night.
A 2016 municipal survey of Japanese and foreign tourists showed that complaints about tourists spots closing too early was one thing many disliked, though it was far down the list compared to massive crowds, rude bus drivers and other ill-mannered tourists.
Though the discussion by the business leaders produced no specific plan of action, the ideas floated ranged from increasing the number of traditional arts performances to designing new forms of evening spectacles designed to ensure that more of Kyoto’s tourists have someplace to see and spend their money at other than bars, nightclubs, pubs and the neon-lit entertainment establishments that line both sides of the Kamo River.
The suggestions came with the latest statistics on inbound tourism all pointing upward.
Kimiharu Banno, head of the transport ministry’s Kinki bureau, told conference participants that over 12 million foreign tourists were estimated to have visited the six prefectures of the Kansai region last year, with 59 percent of them staying in Osaka and 27 percent in Kyoto.
“The number of inbound visitors to the Kansai region has more than quadrupled since 2012,” he said.
A survey by the Kyoto Shimbun newspaper earlier this month estimated there were nearly 34,000 rooms available for lodging as of April 2017 and that, with many other hotels under construction, the figure could reach 42,000 by 2020.
But concern about maintaining tourism revenue and repeat visitors is growing, and there are also worries about will happen after the city introduces a lodging tax in October.
The fear is that once the sun goes down, more travelers may opt to return to Osaka, only 30 minutes by train, with its greater selection of cheaper accommodations and more diverse nightlife.
There were also suggestions floated by the business leaders that more evening events would help reduce potential friction between residents and tourists at area watering holes.
In a city with a tradition of exclusive tea houses that refuse entry to those who are not regulars, smaller establishments can be reluctant to turn their bar stools and tables over to tourists for fear of alienating loyal customers who might drop by and find the place full of strangers.
So, the thinking goes, the best solution is to satisfy tourist desires for more interesting evening events while also placating local concerns.
Whether Kyoto can and will develop a new nightlife industry for tourists is debatable. But some influential people in Kansai seem to think it might be a good — and profitable — idea.