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Kyoto launches online guide to tackle sightseeing congestion, foreign tourists' manners

The Kyoto City Official Travel Guide Website shows the "sightseeing comfort rating," illustrated through icons on a calendar, in this image provided by the Kyoto Municipal Government.

KYOTO -- The Kyoto Municipal Government announced on Sept. 18 emergency measures to reduce congestion at popular sightseeing spots and on public transport, and to improve the behavior of foreign tourists, amid a sense of crisis among residents.

Concerns about the deteriorating quality of the lives of locals have been heightened by overtourism, attributed to the rapid rise in foreign visitors to this western Japan city.

At a regular press conference, Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said, "Kyoto is not a city for tourists. It is praised for its temples, nature, scenic views, as well as food and life culture, so we can't allow tourism that fails to respect the lives of local residents."

He added, "We're aiming to become a city for sustainable tourism that can exist harmoniously with residents' lives."

In an initiative headed by the city government and the Kyoto City Tourism Association, the entire city as well as each popular tourist site will be assigned a "sightseeing comfort rating" (congestion rating) to be displayed online, with the aim of avoiding congestion at popular locations and during peak times.

Based on analysis by artificial intelligence (AI) of three years' worth of information from location data on smartphones, the weather, day of the week, the time and other factors, the ratings predict the next six months of congestion in Kyoto on a five point scale. It will be presented through the Kyoto City Official Travel Guide as a tool for visitors to consider the best time to visit the city.

The website already displays the weather up to a week in advance, and it's also possible to see separate comfort ratings depending on the weather. From the same screen, users can also access a page introducing areas that have relatively few tourists, and proposing spots that are enjoyable to see even on days when it is expected to be crowded.

Between five and eight separate locations are listed with hourly congestion ratings for three areas -- Gion and Kiyomizu, Saga and Arashiyama, and Fushimi -- which see a concentration of visitors during the tourist season in spring and fall. This is part of an attempt to encourage tourists to visit at a time of the day when there is less congestion.

During a trial run of the system carried out in Arashiyama in the fall of 2018, around 10% of visitors to the area were aware of the website when visiting. Some half of those who looked at it changed their plans based on its advisories, and it's understood that about 40% visited relatively less congested places such as Okusaga.

The Kyoto Municipal Government says it hopes to further spread visitors out across Kyoto by making the system permanent and raising its profile.

As part of efforts to ease congestion on city bus routes, West Japan Railway Co. will start allowing users of the "Kansai Area Pass," a ticket for foreign tourists, to ride services including underground trains and the Keihan Electric Railway's Keihan Line. It's hoped the new offer will prompt tourists to use rail transport instead of buses.

Additionally, to help visitors learn more about the lifestyles and manners of residents in Kyoto, explanatory videos will be shown at immigration control and the tourist information center in Kansai International Airport. The video will also run at the Gion Corner theater and other sightseeing facilities.

Stickers warning visitors against littering and taking photographs in specific areas will also be put up at tourist lodgings, eateries and other tourist spots around the city. The city government and its tourism association will also seek cooperation from the travel industry, countries' embassies and consulates as well as foreign media among other measures to tackle overtourism.

(Japanese original by Masateru Sawaki, Kyoto Bureau)

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