By Emiko Jozuka and Lilit Marcus, CNN
Visiting one of Japan’s most beautiful islands will soon become more difficult.
Iriomote, in Okinawa prefecture, will restrict visitors to 1,200 per day to prevent overtourism and protect the habitat of Iriomote wildcats, an endangered species native to the island, according to an announcement from the Okinawa prefectural government.
In a typical pre-pandemic year, about 300,000 travelers visited Iriomote, which only has 2,400 residents. The new cap will cut that number back significantly, with only 33,000 tourists allowed to visit annually.
The swell in visitor numbers at peak times of year has led to water shortages and traffic accidents, the latter of which have injured and killed some of the wild cats, which are a nationally protected species in Japan.
The overtourism restrictions are not yet official law, though — for now, local officials “urge (tour companies) to cooperate.”
Iriomote, the second-largest island in Okinawa and part of the Yaeyama island group, is famous for its untouched natural beauty.
As it’s geographically closer to Taiwan than most of Japan, the island has a warm climate year-round, making it a popular destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming and hiking.
In addition to the general visitor cap on the island, the prefectural government confirms that five UNESCO World Heritage sites around Okinawa will be restricted in the year to come, including Mount Komi and the Nishida River.
Those sites may be subject to tourist caps, timed entry and advanced bookings.
Japan was slower than other countries to reopen its doors after the pandemic. The country began welcoming small groups of approved tourists in June 2022 before fully reopening four months later.
Tourism is back, but so is overtourism
A buzzword in travel before the pandemic, overtourism is now an important topic as countries worldwide see tourists rushing back.
The Indonesian government has made it more difficult to see the world’s biggest lizards by charging 3.75 million rupiah ($252) for travelers to visit the island.
Originally, the island had planned to ban tourists entirely but settled on a quota and fee system instead.
And it’s not only Asia experiencing difficulties from too many visitors.
Amsterdam is eager to shed its “sex and drugs” reputation and has shifted its tourism strategy, adopting what has been nicknamed the “stay away” campaign.
For example, if a British web user searches for a phrase like “pub crawl Amsterdam,” a video ad will pop up warning them of the potential risk of bad behaviors abroad, like going to the hospital or getting arrested.
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