Data shows most travelers are awful, so you can stop being racist.

Chinese tourists irritate other Chinese people, too. There’s a lesson there. | Philippe Lopez/Getty

China recently cracked down on bad behavior among Chinese tourists: In May, the Beijing-based newspaper Global Times reported that the government had created a blacklist of Chinese citizens who had “failed to observe public order.” Those tourists, the report said, will be banned from taking flights abroad for at least 3 years as punishment for getting in fights on airplanes, climbing on statues and “stealing scenic assets.”

But the blacklist hasn’t put a stop to Chinese tourists’ rude behavior. In early October, more horror stories emerged of Chinese tourists behaving poorly, including incidents where they’d scratched their names into the Great Wall of China.

Over the past decade, tens of millions more Chinese have become wealthy enough to travel abroad. In fact, they’re now the world’s biggest tourism spenders. Along with the boom has come scathing criticism of their behavior: spitting and urinating in public, mobbing hotel buffets or trying to open airplane doors to “get some fresh air.” A train company in Switzerland even gave Chinese tourists separate trains to prevent incidents with other travelers.

Travel sites regularly label the Chinese as the “world’s worst tourists” in surveys that are more publicity stunts than real research. But it’s not just the Chinese?—?Such surveys also often find Americans, Germans, Brits, Russians and French as being some of the most awful tourists on the planet.

But why is it always the same nationalities getting called out for behaving badly abroad? I took a closer look at these surveys to find out.

I began with a 2013 survey done by Triposo, a social travel site, which asked 700 people in 62 countries who they thought were the worst tourists of all. Most respondents said Americans were ?1. Next came the Brits, the Russians, the Chinese and then, in 5th place, Australians.

In my experience, that’s pretty typical of such lists. As a longtime business journalist, I also know that these countries are among the wealthiest in the world.

So I performed a little experiment.

I looked up the size of each country’s economy by the most common measure: gross domestic product (GDP), which is the total value of all economic activity in a country.

Nearly all the worst tourism countries were in the top ten:


The ranking of the US, India and Italy was the same for GDP as it was for having the most annoying tourists. My theory held so far.

But there were four anomalies. Japan, the third largest economy in the world, didn’t make the list for bad tourists at all. Nor did Canada, which was ranked number 10 for highest GDP in the world. I’ve lived in Japan, and can attest to a culture of politeness that’s so rigid many Japanese find it crippling. Canadians also have a reputation for politeness (though I’ve met a few rude ones?—?who are probably often mistaken for Americans).

Russians are rated much worse, touristically-speaking, than their GDP would suggest. Though they came in 4th place for having terrible travelers, they ranked down at 14th place for GDP. That can likely be explained by the fact that Russia, which is usually an economic powerhouse, is currently experiencing an economic downturn due to US-led sanctions and falling oil prices.

Similarly, Australia ranks number 5 in “bad tourism” despite having the 13th-largest economy in the world. Although Australia is a small country, Aussies absolutely love to travel, so their frequent (and often intoxicated) presence abroad probably annoys a lot of people.

The other five countries on Triposo’s list of worst tourists scored within three points of their GDP rank. So I think it’s safe to say that overall, the world’s richest countries?—?which produce most of the world’s tourists?—?likely produce most of the bad ones as well.

That conclusion shouldn’t be surprising. When large numbers of people go to a strange country, where they don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs, have no idea where they’re going and are looking for a good time, a lot of them are inevitably going to infuriate the locals, accidentally or on purpose. It might be Chinese people spitting everywhere or white dudes from England or the US treating all the brown-skinned women like prostitutes, as I witnessed over and over again in the 17 years I spent living in Asia.

In short: Everybody hates a tourist. And since the wealthiest countries produce the most tourists, their citizens are going to be labeled the world’s worst. Which makes lists like these kind of silly. Maybe we should just accept the fact that a good portion of all tourists are “the worst,” and ignore racist clickbait surveys that rank real people by how much locals hate their stereotypes.