Japan’s Cherry Blossom Boom Forces Tour Operators to Adjust

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Tour operators are managing cherry blossom tourism as Japan experiences a tourism boom.

Tour operators are adjusting their operations amid Japan’s tourism boom during the popular cherry blossom season.

“We’ve moved a lot of our clients away from the idea of going during cherry blossom and to let them know how congested and challenging things continue to be,” said Kelly Torrens, vice president of Kensington Tours.

From late March to early May, sakura, i.e. cherry blossoms, begin blooming in Japan, starting in the southwest regions. It’s one of Japan’s busiest travel seasons. Kyoto’s parks are some of the most popular for cherry blossom sightseers.

Some tour operators have been spreading tourists out to less visited areas. “There are different smaller parks that we can visit that are just as beautiful, but might not have the same number of tourists visiting,” said Matt Berna, president of Americas for Intrepid Travel.

With high demand, some tour operators have had to hire staff earlier. “This year, KKday had to make earlier arrangements for buses and guides in consideration of the shortage of manpower,” said Ayako Kozono, senior manager for public relations at Japan-based tour operator KKday.

Staffing was a major issue during the cherry blossom season last year. Due to its long lockdown, many English-speaking staff left the industry and have been slow to return, causing service challenges. 

“The destination really wasn’t ready. The supply chain was a mess,” said Kensington’s Torrens. “We know that no one on the ground in Japan wants to experience anything like that again.”

Japan Was Already Expensive Before Cherry Blossom Season

Tourism to Japan is booming. Japan had 2.8 million visitors in 2023, up 7.1% from 2019, according to Japan’s National Tourism Organization.

Demand this year has been pushing costs up. “Due to excess demand, bus and guide prices have risen so much from last year that it is difficult to pass the increase on to the tour price as it is, which is a distressing situation,” said Kozon.

“The cost for us as an operator has gone up across the entire year, across Japan, but particularly around cherry blossom season,” said Berna.

Tourists Annoy Some Japanese Locals

Over the past few months, there’s also been an uptick in local frustration with tourists. There’s been a lot of news coverage of bad manners from tourists, said Kozon.

“Some areas are actually getting so busy that the government’s looking at closing off access for certain times a year to residents only,” said Berna. “People were literally trying to get people’s front of their homes and taking photos.”

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