'More monkeys than humans': Coronavirus drives out tourism in Kyoto's Arashiyama

Arashiyama in Kyoto has launched a campaign with the slogan 'Suitemasu Arashiyama', which translates to "Empty Arashiyama". The campaign plays on popular Instagram and tourism spots like its famous bamboo grove (top right), which is now empty despite typically being crowded with people. PHOTO: TWITTER/SAGAARASHIYAMAO

TOKYO - Just a few months ago, Kyoto was feeling the effects of "over-tourism" and the bad tourist behaviour that led to, among other things, a crackdown on photography of geisha on the streets of the historic district of Gion.

But now that the tourist footfall has dried up, Arashiyama, another Kyoto district that is famous for its bamboo forest, has started a campaign to woo people back.

The campaign slogan, 'Suitemasu Arashiyama', translates to 'Empty Arashiyama'. The poster features taglines that read "There haven't been more monkeys than humans in a long time" and "#BambooGrove #Arashiyama #NoOne #OnlyNow #Emotional".

The coronavirus outbreak has hurt regional travel, denting Japan's hopes of reaching its goal of wooing 40 million visitors to the country this year. There were 31.9 million visitors last year, of whom three in 10 were from China.

Figures released by the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) on Wednesday (Feb 19) showed that the number of foreign visitors fell 1.1 per cent in January to 2.66 million from 2.69 million in the same month last year.

But Japan Tourism Agency chief Hiroshi Tabata cautioned that the full impact will only be seen in February, which will be the first full month after China banned group travel abroad on Jan 27 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Still, it is the fourth consecutive monthly fall, thanks also to a plunge in South Korean visitors by 59.4 per cent to 316,800 people due to a spat over wartime issues. It led South Koreans to launch a boycott of Japanese goods and services last year.

Chinese arrivals were not greatly affected by the coronavirus in January, given that tougher measures had only been enacted late that month.

Visitors from mainland China hit a record 924,800 - up 22.6 per cent from January last year - though Mr Tabata also noted that corresponding arrivals over the Chinese New Year period had fallen about 20 per cent from last year's holiday season.

About 70 per cent of regular flights between Japan and China - or about 1,160 round trips - have since been cut due to a sharp drop in demand.

Separately, the West Japan Railway Company (JR West) said that the Sanyo Shinkansen route connecting Shin-Osaka station in Osaka with Hakata station in Fukuoka, which passes through cities like Hiroshima and Kobe, registered a 12 per cent drop in usage between Feb 1 and Feb 14 over last year. The company attributed it to a drop in the number of Chinese tourists.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has predicted that Japan could lose US$1.29 billion in tourism revenue from January to March due to the outbreak.

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