Nepal Courts Nervous Tourists

An Overview for Travel Agents

Nepal tourism has suffered several body blows in the past year or so. First was the massacre of the royal family in June 2001 and September’s terrorist attacks on America. Then Nepal’s perennial Maoist insurgency spilled out of remote mountain valleys with attacks on major population centers. Tourism officials have been at pains ever since to reassure jittery travelers.

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Kyoto: A Destination Overview for Travel Agents

[Note: This article first appeared in Travel Agent magazine and is reprinted here with permission.]

When the dollar hit an all-time low against the yen in April, 1995, many tourists wrote off Kyoto. Since then the dollar’s yen buying power has increased over 40% and, while official figures are not yet available, Kyoto tourism officials and hoteliers report a sharp rise in leisure arrivals.

The ancient imperial capital is second only to Tokyo in foreign tourist arrivals and is arguably the more interesting of the two cities. Laid out in a regular north-south grid and almost entirely surrounded by low mountains, it is also far easier to navigate.

1997 has seen some striking improvements to the city’s infrastructure. The playfully modern Kyoto Station Building, with its vast and airy Central Concourse, is now open. The controversial complex, designed by Hara Hiroshi, includes The Cube, Kyoto’s largest shopping center, anchored by the Isetan department store; the 539-room Hotel Granvia Kyoto; and Theater 1200, a 1,000-seat venue for international concert and theatrical events, as well as two smaller theaters.

The Karasuma subway line has been extended north to the International Conference Centre, while the new east-west Tozai line offers easier access to Kyoto’s attraction-filled eastern district.

Target Clientele: Although cheaper than it was just a year ago, Kyoto is still a relatively upscale destination that will appeal to travelers with an interest in Japanese art, history, and exquisite contemporary crafts. Clients with a taste for luxury travel will find much to please them in Kyoto’s fine hotels and restaurants.

Attractions: There are enough temples, shrines, and museums to keep the dedicated sightseer busy for months. Perennial favorites include Nijo Castle, a shogun’s residence boasting magnificent fusuma (sliding door) paintings of the Kano school; Kinkaku-ji Temple with its shimmering Golden Pavilion; Ryoan-ji Temple, with Zen rock gardens that virtually define the genre; and Kiyomizudera Temple, a mammoth wooden structure erected without the use of a single nail.

Kyoto’s major sites are often mobbed with Japanese sightseers and chattering school groups, so early morning visits are advisable. The remainder of the day can be devoted to the unexpected pleasures of exploring lesser-known shrines, temples, and gardens.

The Philosophers’ Path offers a leisurely and shady stroll along an old canal past shrines, temples, trendy boutiques, and some of Kyoto’s finest private homes; in April it is ablaze in cherry blossoms.

Gion Corner, in the heart of the city’s famed geisha district, offers nightly performances of traditonal Japanese music, dance, and theater from March through November (011-81-075-561-1119; $28).

Kyoto’s newest attraction is the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (011-81-075-762-2670; free), offering a crash course in quality craftsmanship for the serious shopper. For a change of pace, try Toei Movieland, a samurai version of Universal Studios, where no English is spoken.

Accommodations: The following hotels can be recommended with confidence to clients seeking all the western amenities. The centrally located 303-room ANA (Zen Nikku) Hotel (left) (800-ANA-HOTELS; 011-81-075-231-1155; fax 011-81- 075-231-5333) offers views of Nijo Castle and a health spa; doubles range from $190 to $240. Next to the Kyoto International Conference Centre to the north of the city, the circular 322-room Takaragaike Prince Hotel (011-81-075-712-1111; fax 011-81-075-712-7677; in the US, 1-800-542-8686) boasts the largest doubles in Kyoto for $300 to $350; substantial discounts are available to those attending conventions. The doyenne of Kyoto’s luxury western-style hotels is the 108-year-old, 528-room Miyako (800-336-1136; 011-81-075-771-7111; fax 011-81-075-751-2490), where doubles range from $230 to $430; the hotel’s location in the eastern foothills offers ready access to several major tourist attractions and sweeping views of the city. A moderately-priced choice is the Holiday Inn Kyoto (1-800-HOLIDAY), where doubles are about $150 and the surroundings familiar.

For the more adventurous traveler, Japanese-style accommodations are available in Kyoto’s many ryokans and minshukus (see sidebar).

Dining: Major hotels all offer a range of dining options: Japanese, Chinese, and Western, with English menus. Otherwise, English menus are the exception rather than the rule. One such exception is Kyo-Ichi (075-365-0240) near Kyoto Station, offering elegant variations on Japanese home cooking. Many restaurants display life-like plaster models of their specialities in their windows, so non-Japanese speakers can let their fingers do the ordering.

Visitors wishing to sample Kyoto’s refined kai-seki cuisine should rely on their hotel concierge to select the restaurant and make reservations. Make sure to remind your clients that relatively few restaurants outside hotels accept credit cards.

Getting There: Kyoto is two hours, 45 minutes from Tokyo on the Shinkansen Bullet Train. Ultra-modern Kansai International Airport (KIX), near Osaka, has non-stop flights to Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Detroit via Japan Airlines, Northwest, and United. There is direct bus and train service from the airport to Kyoto Station.

Contact the Japanese National Tourist Organization at (212) 757-5640, (312) 222-0874, (415) 989-7140, or (213) 623-1952. Web site addresses include [], [], and [].