Osaka governor wants foreign tourists to pay extra, but who is “foreign?”

For many years, Osaka didn’t ping too loudly on many foreign tourists’ radars. Tokyo offered more big-city glamour and Kyoto more traditional culture, leaving Osaka a little light on identity, despite being Japan’s third-largest city in terms of population.

In recent years, though, Osaka has seen its tourism star rise. Affordable rail passes have made staying in Osaka a viable base to stay in while taking day trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Himeji, all while enjoying the wider range of hotel, dining, and nightlife options that Osaka affords. Osaka now also boasts Universal Studios Japan, which has been aggressively partnering with Japanese franchises from the anime and video game world, most notable in the form of its Super Nintendo World area. Then there’s the ongoing and deepening Japanese cuisine boom among international foodies, who’ve learned that Osaka has a number of delicious local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushikatsu.

Really, Osaka’s attractiveness is higher than ever in the eyes of inbound international travelers. It might seem less attractive, though, if Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura gets his way and the prefecture starts charging a special extra fee just to foreign tourists.

▼ Yoshimua discussing his plan to levy fees on foreign travelers

In a speech on Wednesday, Yoshimura cited the costs of the Expo 2025 World Expo which will be held in Osaka, as well as the Osaka Growth Strategy urban development project. “As the attractiveness of Osaka increases, more and more [foreign tourists] will come to the prefecture,” the 48-year-old politician said. “I think we should ask them to bear a small part of the burden [of those costs].”

That logic is somewhat shaky, in that foreign tourists are already asked to contribute to the prefecture’s financial wellbeing. Osaka already charges an accommodation tax of between 100 and 300 yen per hotel guest spending a night in the prefecture when the cost of the room exceeds 7,000 yen (US$48) per person per night. As this fee is charged to all guests, it is also charged to foreign travelers.

And to clarify, Yoshimura is proposing the foreign traveler fee in addition to the accommodation tax, not in lieu of it. Not only would the accommodation tax remain in pace, the prefectural government is currently considering raising it.

Yoshimura’s proposed foreign traveler fee also seems to not acknowledge that foreign travelers, just like their domestic counterparts, contribute to tax revenue on other purchases they make that are subject to consumption tax, which includes restaurant meals and admission to sightseeing attractions. Strangest of all is Yoshimura’s contention that foreign tourists should be bearing an additional burden to cover the cost of Expo 2025, which is an event designed with the specific goal of attracting visitors from other parts of the world, and which said visitors will have to purchase tickets for.

▼ If money is so tight, perhaps they shouldn’t have made the Osaka 2025 punching fist sculpture.

It’s not clear how Yoshimura would propose for the foreign traveler fee to be collected, though the most feasible method would be to tack the fee onto hotel charges for rooms booked by foreign travelers. The amount of the fee would be comparable to the accommodation tax, though again it’s not apparent if this is meant to be equivalent to the current tax or the possible raised rate.

Yet another undefined aspect of the proposal is how it would define “foreign tourist.” In his speech, Yoshimura used the term gaikokujin kankousha, which translates literally as “foreign country person sightseer.” It’s unclear how the system would treat foreign nationals who are working, studying, or otherwise living in Japan. As legal residents of Japan but also citizens of a foreign country, would they still be charged the “foreign country person sightseer” fee?

It’s worth noting that while some other Asian countries charge higher rates for certain tourism-related fees to foreigners, that’s not the norm in Japan. Yoshimura’s envisioned foreign traveler fee may or may not be legal under Japanese law, and he would likely have to argue that it’s not ethnically discriminatory in nature in order for it to be put into effect.

Source: ABC News via Yahoo! Japan News, YouTube/ABCテレビニュース, YouTube/MBS NEWS
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