Industries in Depth

Japan is blocking a famous view to tackle overtourism. What are other holiday destinations doing?

General view of cherry blossom trees with Mount Fuji in the background at Lake Kawaguchiko, Fujikawaguchiko, Japan, April 14, 2024. REUTERS/Carlos Perez Gallardo

Workers are erecting a barrier to block the view of a popular Mount Fuji photo spot to tackle overtourism. Image: REUTERS/Carlos Perez Gallardo

Gabi Thesing
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Ian Shine
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
David Elliott
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article was originally published in August 2023 and updated in September 2023 and May 2024.

  • Japan has blocked off a view of Mount Fuji, while Amsterdam has banned new hotels and limited overnight tourists.
  • But as more regions look to curb visitor numbers, they must balance this with the economic reality that tourism is a key contributor to GDP.
  • The way forward must involve embedding sustainability and resilience in tourism, the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index says.

The list of tourist hotspots trying to reduce visitor numbers continues to grow.

Destinations around the world are announcing measures to tackle overtourism and its impacts on local populations, historic sites, air pollution and nature.

Officials in Japan have erected a barrier to block a popular view of Mount Fuji as record numbers of visitors arrive in the country. While those visits have brought an economic boost, people living near this particular view of Mount Fuji say the masses of keen photographers arriving to get the perfect shot often refuse to obey rules on littering and parking.

Other popular destinations in Japan, including the city of Osaka and the hot-spring resort town Hakone, are considering new tourism taxes to address the uplift in visitor numbers.

Amsterdam, meanwhile, has added to existing overtourism measures by prohibiting the development of new hotel buildings. It is also limiting the number of travellers allowed to stay overnight.

A new hotel can only be built in the city if another one closes, if there is no increase in the number of sleeping places, and if the new hotel will be better, for example by being more sustainable, reports Reuters.

“We want to make and keep the city liveable for residents and visitors,” the local government said in a statement. “This means: no over-tourism, no new hotels, and no more than 20 million hotel overnight stays by tourists per year.”

Amsterdam is prohibiting the development of new hotels to tackle overtourism.
Amsterdam is prohibiting the development of new hotels to tackle overtourism. Image: Statista

What is the Forum doing to help cities to reach a net-zero carbon future?

Balancing tourism and environmental impact

As more cities and regions try to find ways to curb visitor numbers, this must be balanced with the economic reality that tourism as an industry makes up around 10% of global GDP. One in five new jobs created worldwide in 2014-2019 was in the travel and tourism sector, the World Travel & Tourism Council says.

Map illustrating the economic impact on the travel and tourism sectors.
Travel and Tourism Economic Impact: Tourism generates around 10% of global GDP. Image: World Travel & Tourism Council

When COVID-19 halted global travel, revenues fell 80% for some sub-sectors of the tourism industry in the EU, affecting 11 million jobs.

As tourism continues to bounce back from the pandemic, policymakers are trying to find ways to do it more sustainably – and get tourists to foot some of the bill through ecotourism taxes.

There is an “imperative to embed sustainability and resilience into the design and management of the sector as it rebuilds in the context of the pandemic and increasing geopolitical tensions that are leading to volatility in multiple markets,” the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index says.

How regions are curbing tourist numbers

Venice recently launched an entry fee for tourists coming to see its famous canals but only staying for one day. The city also has an overnight tax in place, the rate of which is based on the number of nights spent and the level or number of stars the accommodation has.

Amsterdam recently joined Venice as the latest destination to consider restricting tourist levels through bans of cruise ships in its city centres. While the plan has been approved by the city council, the changes have yet to be enacted.

The French city of Marseilles introduced a reservation system to limit the number of tourists entering the Calanques National Park. It wanted to protect a cove it says is "the most sensitive, vulnerable, and degraded" site in the area.

The system has proven so successful that local authorities have decided to keep it in place for the next four years.

Other destinations are planning campaigns to try to disperse tourists and encourage them to travel to less-visited places. Around 80% of France’s 37 million annual visitors congregate in just 20% of the country.

The balancing act of the ecotourism tax

General tourist taxes have been around for decades at some destinations for a variety of reasons, such as raising funds for infrastructure and facilities.

Specific ecotourism taxes differ as they are ring-fenced payments that will be reinvested in sustainability projects. They can be a way to remind guests of the environmental impact of their visit, Christopher Khoo of tourism consultancy MasterConsult Services told the Eco-Business website.

As Topaz Smith, Community Lead, Aviation, Travel & Tourism at the World Economic Forum, explains, "Ecotourism taxes play a key role in generating revenue to fund sustainable infrastructure development, supporting conservation efforts, promoting environmental education, training hospitality workers, and enhancing local communities’ capacity to manage and benefit from tourism."

Bali’s fight for water

Bali is the latest Asian destination to say it will introduce an ecotourism tax. It will charge visitors 150,000 rupiah ($10) from 2024.

Freshwater scarcity is a particular concern for Bali. A single tourist uses 1,785 litres of water per day, while locals use around 14 litres, the South China Morning Post reports. And this figure jumps to 4,000 litres a day for tourists staying in hotels.

Like with the introduction of any additional tax, ecotourism taxes will need to strike a balance between the revenue benefits and the potential to deter visitors, according to Zhang Jiajie, Assistant Professor in Human Geography at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“A robust framework needs to be set up for proper reporting on how the funds raised by such taxes benefit conservation efforts and local livelihoods. Otherwise, the trickle-down effect is questionable,” he told the Eco-Business website.

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Industries in DepthClimate ActionNature and Biodiversity
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