Japan’s Iriomote Island Limits Visitors to Protect Wildlife and Combat Overtourism

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Japan's Iriomote Island is implementing a daily visitor cap of 1,200 starting April 2023, in an effort to protect the island's delicate ecosystem and endangered species. This restriction will significantly reduce the annual number of tourists from 300,000 to 33,000.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government has introduced visitor caps for five locations near the UNESCO-inscribed area on Iriomote Island, with daily entry restricted to between 30 and 200 people depending on the site. Tourists will be required to be accompanied by a guide at these locations to promote responsible tourism.
The growing concern over overtourism has led to various measures being implemented worldwide to manage its impact on local communities and the environment, including entry caps, fees, and advanced booking systems. Other countries, such as Italy and Amsterdam, have also announced plans to introduce tourism taxes and pre-registration systems for visitors.

 

In an effort to protect the island’s delicate ecosystem and endangered species, Japan’s Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture will implement a daily visitor cap of 1,200 starting April 2023.

This restriction will significantly reduce the annual number of tourists from 300,000 to 33,000. The decision comes as a response to the negative impacts of overtourism on local plant and animal life, including the endangered Iriomote wildcat.

Safeguarding an Untouched Paradise

Iriomote, the second-largest island in Okinawa and part of the Yaeyama island group, is known for its untouched natural beauty.

Its warm climate and proximity to Taiwan make it a popular destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, and hiking.

The growing influx of tourists in recent years has resulted in water shortages, traffic accidents, and harm to the native wildcat population, which is a nationally protected species in Japan.

Iriomote, the second-largest island in Okinawa and part of the Yaeyama island group, is known for its untouched natural beauty.

Preserving Heritage Sites and Promoting Responsible Tourism

The Okinawa Prefectural Government has also introduced visitor caps for five locations near the UNESCO-inscribed area on Iriomote Island.

Depending on the site, daily entry will be restricted to between 30 and 200 people.

Tourists will be required to be accompanied by a guide at these locations.

To promote responsible tourism, the local government will share relevant information with visitors.

Visitor restrictions will also be implemented at other UNESCO World Heritage sites around Okinawa, including Mount Komi and the Nishida River.

These sites may require tourist caps, timed entry, and advanced bookings.

Enforcement Challenges and Global Overtourism Concerns

Although the visitor caps have been announced, the local government has yet to provide a concrete plan for enforcing the new rules.

Yusuke Takayama, an animal conservationist, told Fuji Television that while setting a limit of 330,000 annual visitors is a positive step, the lack of a specific plan to achieve this number remains a problem.

As Japan reopened its borders in October 2022, the number of foreign tourists has been steadily increasing.

With the return of tourism, concerns about overtourism have resurfaced not only in Japan but also in other countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Italy.

To manage the impact of overtourism on local communities and the environment, various measures have been implemented worldwide, including entry caps, fees, and advanced booking systems.

In Amsterdam, for example, the city is working to shed its “sex and drugs” reputation by adopting the “stay away” campaign, which targets specific types of “nuisance tourists” and discourages unruly behavior.

Venice, Italy, has also announced plans to introduce a tourism tax for day-travelers and a pre-registration system for all visitors.

These measures reflect the growing global concern over the negative effects of overtourism on local ecosystems and communities.

Craig Miller

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