Rising concerns worldwide about what an increase in tourism is doing to historic cities, cultural sites and the environment loomed over the start Thursday of a two-day gathering in Kyoto on tourism and culture organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and UNESCO.

Kyoto is a prime example of a city struggling to deal with large numbers of tourists, especially those from abroad, where local residents complain of chronic traffic jams, busy streets and the bad manners of some foreign tourists. Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa faces re-election in February, and how to manage the flood of foreign tourists is weighing heavily on voters’ minds.

“Over the past two decades, we’ve seen an increase of tourists in Kyoto to over 50 million annually,” the mayor said. Yet, he added, the same period has seen reductions in the amount of waste and the number of cars on the road due to municipal policies.

To deal with complaints about too many tourists, Kadokawa added, the city has cracked down on illegal minpaku, a type of private lodging service, and undertaken a campaign to educate foreign tourists in particular on Kyoto’s manners and customs. It has, for example, created signs asking them to be polite when asking maiko (apprentice geisha) for photos.

The conference brings together tourism ministers, academic experts, indigenous peoples’ representatives and business leaders to share best practices on managing tourism and preserving and promoting local and national cultures through socially, economically and environmentally sustainable tourism policies.

At a morning session of top tourism officials from eight countries including Japan, discussion centered on ideas to promote local culture and attract more tourists. One of the ways was through getting visitors interested in local festivals.

“We have many traditional festivals in Ghana that have become a source of historical tourism and are attracting younger people from all over the world,” said Ziblim Iddi, Ghana’s deputy minister of tourism, arts and culture.

Ghana has also marked the 400th anniversary of the first recorded enslaved Africans who were sent to North America to work on plantations in what is now the United States.

“This has brought in a lot of tourists of African descent seeking to learn about the experience of their spiritual ancestors,” Iddi added.

The conference agenda includes discussions on empowering local communities so that they benefit from increases in tourism, as well as creating tourism policies that respect the cultures and practices of indigenous peoples.

“Putting communities in the driving seat and enabling them to effectively manage the development of tourism can successfully address the issues facing cultural tourism and boost its future prospects,” said Manuel Butler, executive director of the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

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