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Home » Cultural Geography, Geography of Tourism, GeoNotes, Nationalism, World

A Surprising Map of The Countries That Are Most and Least Welcoming to Foreigners

Submitted by on March 31, 2013 – 10:40 pm 25 Comments |  

At the Washington Post, Max Fisher has created an interesting map, reposted on the left, depicting how welcoming different countries are to foreigners. This map is based on figures from a new World Economic Forum report on global travel and tourism competitiveness, buried several hundred pages into the report after the sections on air travel infrastructure and physician density (that is the number of physicians per capita). The WEF has compiled data from 140 countries estimating the attitude of each toward foreign visitors, based on surveys conducted from late 2011 to late 2012. The question asked was simple: “How welcome are foreign visitors in your country?” The WEF explains that the survey results are meant to help “measure the extent to which a country and society are open to tourism and foreign visitors”. According to the somewhat strange color scheme, countries mapped as red are less welcoming to foreign visitors, while countries mapped in blue are more welcoming (wouldn’t one think that the red countries would be more warm toward outsiders than the blue ones?) But the odd color coding aside, the results appear significant beyond just tourism.

According to the data, the top ten most welcoming countries for foreigners are, in order: Iceland, New Zealand, Morocco, Macedonia, Austria, Senegal, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ireland, and Burkina Faso. Canada places twelfth, while the United States is placed in the “lukewarm” category. The ten countries least welcoming to foreigners are, in order: Bolivia, Venezuela, Russia, Kuwait, Latvia, Iran, Pakistan, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Mongolia. China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine are only slightly more hospitable to foreigners, according to this report.

Only a few trends in countries’ openness to foreigners are apparent from this map. First, many Asian countries (with the exception of Thailand) are not rated as very welcoming. Within Asia, Southeast Asian countries tend to be more welcoming than China or South Korea. Second, some of the more troubled states of the greater Middle East—Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia—find themselves towards the bottom of the ranking, while the more prosperous and peaceful Gulf states, such as United Arab Emirates (which ranks 15th) and Bahrain, rank close to the top. In fact, overall the Middle East scores fairly high. Third, Western European countries are more welcoming than Eastern European countries.

Other patterns or specific rankings are more confounding, however, and in several instances seem to cut against common American perceptions of the world. Why is poor and troubled Yemen—where kidnapping is a major concern—more welcoming to foreigners than Sweden and Belgium? While Morocco is known as a tourism-friendly country, why are several other countries in West Africa also supposedly open to international visitors? And in what sense is Mali friendly to tourists, while a war of sorts is ongoing there and large parts of the country are known to have kidnappers looking for more westerners to take? Here the information is clearly out of date. Western Europe is generally friendly toward foreigners but, perhaps because of its touchy immigration politics , it oddly ranks in the same category as much of sub-Saharan Africa. The United States, the land of the Statue of Liberty and “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” ranks 102nd out of 140 countries, well below much of the Middle East. South America is a mix of more open countries like Brazil and countries less welcoming to visitors such as Venezuela and Bolivia. Fisher, who created the map, admits that “there is no easy ‘grand unifying theory’ that I can see, no single variable that explains the outcomes”. He discounts national wealth as measured by GDP as a factor: while Western European countries are wealthy, so is unwelcoming South Korea. The variance among rich Western states also must stem from some different factor. He also discounts tourism rates since mid-ranking United States and low-ranked China both attract a lot of foreign tourists. Fisher’s tentative theory is that openness to foreigners negatively correlates with nationalistic fervor: the more nationalist a given country is, the less friendly it is to foreigners. He uses this theory to explain the low rankings of China, South Korea, and Russia, and further suggests that it might help explain why the United States, Germany, and Japan—three countries with strongly nationalist histories—rank below other wealthy nations. Countries that stand out as particularly unfriendly among the overall welcoming Latin America—Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela—“have governments that could be fairly described as nationalistic”, according to Fisher.

However, Fisher also readily accepts that his theory does not explain all the patterns, such as the variance in southern Africa. Fisher also wondered why Denmark, a rich Western European country, is much redder than its neighbors, despite the general lack of strident Danish nationalism. However, one of the commentators, Johan Gustavsson pointed out that “Danish politics have for the last 10-ish years been strongly influenced by the Danish Peoples Party, a classic conservative-right nationalist-populist party”. Indeed, the vote for this party has grown nearly twofold from 1998 to 2007; however, in the latest election (2011) the Danish Peoples Party lost three seats, reducing its share to 22 out of 179 seats in the Danish parliament. The biggest problem with Fisher’s theory is that nationalistic feelings—past or present—are difficult to quantify or even define unambiguously. For example, some people consider Israel a highly nationalistic country, yet it is fairly open to foreign tourists, according to this study. But is it nationalistic in the right sense? Yet, Fisher might be on to something here, as is evident from the comments to his article: most commentators either bemoan their country’s low ranking or praise the research for recognizing their country’s friendliness to tourists.




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  • Sylvia

    Kind of an odd survey. Perhaps should have been done in reverse: ask the tourists how welcoming they felt. May be more of a judge of their own culture and how they perceive themselves than anything else.

    The most striking oddity to me is in the Baltic States: Estonia is welcoming, Latvia is not welcoming at all, and Lithuania is not particularly welcoming. When I traveled through all three, I didn’t perceive large differences in the level of “welcoming”.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thanks for sharing this, Sylvia. I am as perplexed as anyone at some of the results. And you are right, had they asked the tourists (rather than the “hosts”), a very different picture would have emerged.

  • James T. Wilson

    Was this a survey given to citizens at large asked about their own country? I imagine all sorts of political grudges could color respondents’ answers. Moreover, those who answer may have very little to do with tourists. The couple of times I have been in Slovakia, for instance, I have felt as welcome as I have felt anywhere else, but then, I have spent most of my time in restaurants, bookstores, and museums in Bratislava. Slovaks in other parts of the country and in other professions might feel tourists are not very welcome. Those who oppose the more nationalist governments might also think that their policies have more of an impact on tourists than we actually experience.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thanks for sharing these excellent points, James! This survey questioned representative citizens of these countries, I believe, but the question was not how they themselves felt about tourists, but rather what their impression of their fellow countrymen was, I gather. There are so many different ways one could improve on this survey, but nonetheless it’s interesting to map.

  • Ayyapillai

    Thanks for your grateful informations, am working in Tourism Portal, so it will be helpful info for my works.

  • BorisDenisov

    imho: it is a random walk map

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Haha, brilliant!

  • tim

    “According to the somewhat strange color scheme, countries mapped as red
    are less welcoming to foreign visitors, while countries mapped in blue
    are more welcoming (wouldn’t one think that the red countries would be
    more warm toward outsiders than the blue ones?)”

    Are you not aware of what blue and red represent in U.S. politics?

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      I am, but until recently the colors were used in reverse . More importantly, I fail to see a connection.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Yep, this use of “red” and “blue” was coined by journalist Tim Russert, during his televised coverage of the 2000 presidential election. Before that, the colors were often reversed or different colors used.

  • TimUpham

    Mongolia is starting to develop quite a sophisticated tourist industry. It is trying to get away from its Soviet satellite past. They still use the Cyrillic alphabet, and has delayed the institution of the Uighur script, because of a lack of printing facilities. They have schools in Ulaan Bator, that teach Uighur calligraphy. But Americans are not required to have visas to enter Mongolia. Celebrate by having airag or fermented horse’s milk, I had it and it was just like drinking a watery yogurt. I also had horse meat and yak milk cheese, it was rubbery like Monterey Jack but very bland tasting.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thanks for sharing this!

  • TimUpham

    People should not be afraid to travel. Learn about the country, and some of its language, and the local inhabitants will be very warm to you. The response I always get is “We usually do not meet Americans, who know much about our country.” Just do not be the ugly American.

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  • Mainlander

    No one asked me.

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  • gosia

    In my opinion the report itself has very economic sound. It is more useful for people going for the journes because of business purposes. For passionate tourists, who love to discover cultures it is useless.
    Last year I had a tour through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. I met a lot of natives in those countries and I got a lot of help from them and I felt really good. As long as a tourist is not an ignorant – every country will be pleasant and welcoming.
    Btw… I am from Poland. I don’t know what is going on but foreigners, who I met said that they liked to travel to my country… did they lie to me?
    Oh, I forgot… I love Russia. If you show at least a bit of effort to try to speak Russian it is very welcoming country.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Of course the report is economy-oriented: it is produced by World ECONOMIC Forum. So it is oriented towards tourism industry, which is understandable. For people who travel without using tourist infrastructure, it’d be meaningless…

  • Javier Harris

    I’m Cuban and I lived in Bolivia from the ages of 8 to 13 (from early 2000 to early 2005) and although I was part of the middle class where most people have European ancestry, I never experienced any sort of xenophobia, even when interacting with the more Amerindian looking Bolivians. Most xenophobia was probably directed against Chileans or Argentinians, even Peruvians, who I believe Bolivians as a collective group have had feuds with. Now, even though some of my friend did have darker skin and looked Amerindian, there was certainly quite some disdain against them. Of course, this is all based on my personal experience and it’s not enough to make generalizations. I don’t think this map itself is enough either, but it’s quite interesting nevertheless. Funny that we are in the middle here in the United States.

    • Javier Harris

      Forgot to mention….. ALL OF THAT was before this guy took power and emerged as new representative leader of the natives.

  • Fábio

    A purely yankee geopolitical point of view.

    • Fábio

      And one more think: why the citizens of the United States insist of callinh themselves “americans”? Seriously, America is a continent. You are not entitled to take away the right of every person born in this continent to see himself or herself as an american.

      • SirBedevere

        You might want to read the relevant discussions on this blog before getting your panties in such a twist. In any case, there is, of course, a historical reason for the use of the ethnonym “American” for citizens of the United States of America (itself a rather generic name, considering the official name of Mexico). Europeans were referring to the USA as the Americans for decades before the independence of any other part of the Americas except for Haiti. For those decades, inhabitants of the rest of the Americas were generally referred to as Spanish or Portuguese, or by some more limited term, such as criollo or peninsular.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      The question was asked not of “yanks” but of people in their respective countries…

  • FuzzyFTW .

    pakistan least welcoming that is some bs

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Why do you say that? I can see why it wouldn’t be friendly to foreigners, particularly to westerners (visas, restrictions on movement, clothing etc.)