sexta-feira, 15 de junho de 2018
'Tourism pollution': Japanese crackdown costs Airbnb $10m
'Tourism pollution': Japanese crackdown costs Airbnb $10m
Kyoto is on frontline of clash that has spread to holiday lets, with restrictive law now in effect
Justin McCurry in Kyoto
Fri 15 Jun 2018 00.52 BST Last modified on Fri 15 Jun 2018 07.02 BST
It has become a familiar scene: tourists in rented kimonos posing for photographs in front of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. They and other visitors have brought valuable tourist dollars to the city and other locations across Japan.
But now the country’s former capital is on the frontline of a battle against “tourism pollution” that has already turned locals against visitors in cities across the world such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam.
The increasingly fraught relationship between tourists and their Japanese hosts has spread to the short-stay rental market. On Friday a new law comes into effect that requires property owners to register with the government before they can legally make their homes available through Airbnb and other websites. The restriction has caused the number of available properties to plummet and has cost the US-based company millions of dollars.
Thanks to government campaigns, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared since the end of a flat period caused by a strong yen and radiation fears in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
A record 28.7 million people visited last year, an increase of 250% since 2012. Almost seven million were from China, with visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Thailand and the US taking the next five spots. By 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, the government hopes the number will have risen to 40 million.
But for many people living near sightseeing hotspots, the tourism boom is proving a double-edged sword. “Japan’s rise as a bucket-list destination is a mixed blessing,” said Peter MacIntosh, who organises walking tours and geisha evenings for small groups. “When there were very few tourists, people complained, and now that there are lots of them, they’re not ready for it. If it’s like this now, what do you think it’s going to be like closer to the Olympics?”
The Gion-Shimbashi area of Kyoto is quiet on this weekday morning, but by the weekend the road in front of Tatsumi Daimyojin shrine, the bridge over the Shirakawa and alleyways dotted with restaurants, homes and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) will be teeming with an international cast of visitors.
Tomoko Okuda, who runs Shiraume, a ryokan that welcomes overseas guests, believes more could be done to educate tourists about local customs before they arrive.
“Making a booking at a restaurant and then cancelling on the same day may be acceptable in other countries, but in Japan it causes real problems because of the preparation involved,” Okuda said. “I’ve also heard complaints about people going into old tea houses and coffee shops, taking photos and leaving without ordering anything.”
Kanji Tomita, an architect and member of a group campaigning to preserve the Gion-Shimbashi’s traditional atmosphere, said tourists were welcome, but added that some local businesses were running out of patience.
Most complaints target groups loitering in the doorways of private homes, sitting on delicate bamboo fences and trespassing to take the perfect selfie. Others say the sheer number of visitors has led to overcrowded buses, fully booked restaurants and a general din that spoils the city’s miyabi – the refined atmosphere that draws people to Kyoto in the first place.
“This used to be a place where you’d only see locals out for a stroll or eating at a restaurant,” Tomita said. “But more and more people read online reviews and make a beeline for the area. It’s a beautiful place and we want visitors to enjoy it, but they should also consider the feelings of the people who live here. It’s not some sort of cultural Disneyland.”
Under the new private lodging law, which was supposed to address a legal grey area surrounding short-term rentals – known as minpaku – properties can be rented out for a maximum of 180 days a year, and local authorities are permitted to impose additional restrictions.
The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction. The legislation has forced the firm to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay in unregistered homes after Friday and to compensate clients to the tune of about $10m.
Complaints about late-night noise and rubbish incorrectly sorted before disposal, along with security concerns, have pitted residents against local authorities keen to cash in on the tourism boom. Tellingly, Kyoto will allow private lodging in residential areas only between mid-January and mid-March, the one time of the year that tourists traditionally avoid.
A short walk south of Tatsumi Daimyojin, hordes of tourists have congregated on a street in front of Ichiriki, the 300-year-old teahouse made famous by the book and film Memoirs of a Geisha. Most are here for one reason: to catch a glimpse of the Gion district’s geiko and maiko – or qualified and trainee geisha.
“The problem is that everyone thinks of Kyoto as their own private photo studio,” said MacIntosh, who has lived in the city for 25 years. “I’ve seen maiko bursting into tears and fending off people who want to have their photo taken with them. They are not on display. This is a live, working environment.”
Other incidents have hardened attitudes towards mass tourism, with TV networks running features on tourists climbing up cherry trees during the blossom season or staggering drunk around Tokyo’s Golden Gai bar district. In May there was widespread anger when more than 100 trees in a popular bamboo forest were found to have been defaced by people carving their names into them.
Alex Kerr, a Kyoto resident and author of several books about Japan, said the country had been caught off-guard. “It’s not just Kyoto – most of Japan is unprepared for the foreign influx because the boom has happened so quickly. Nobody ever expected tourists to come in such large numbers, and it is only just beginning.”
Kerr believes better management would ease the pressure, including the introduction of higher admission fees to popular attractions.
“Tourism is the last salvation for many rural towns, and even having a big impact on metropolises such as Osaka,” he said. “So clamping down on tourism is not the answer. At the same time, there’s no question that unmanaged crowds can damage the experience, especially in a city like Kyoto where so much of the essence of the culture was about the quiet and meditative atmosphere.”
In Tatsumi Daimyojin, the photoshoots have ended and the groups in kimonos move on to the next attraction.
“Japan is going through a period of adjustment,” said Okuda. “Kyoto isn’t as big or cosmopolitan as Tokyo, and it is taking time to get used to the influx of visitors. But the last thing I want is for Kyoto to become the sort of place that sends out the signal that tourists should stay away.”