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Tourists Behaving Badly

Increasingly stories in all kinds of media about tourists from around the world behaving badly are making global headlines.

One of the most recent incidents that hit the global news is the unruly behavior by a group of young Australian males attending the Formula One Grand Prix race in Malaysia. They were arrested and investigated for public indecency and intending to provoke a breach of the peace (

Other incidents of tourists behaving badly reported in recent times include those of Chinese international tourists ( Their exhibited different habits and mis-behaviors have resulted in negative impressions and impacts on their hosts, their fellow travelers around the world, and their fellow citizens back home (

However, it is not only Chinese tourists or Australians who have been labelled ‘bad tourists’. Other groups of tourists from different countries stand out as most badly behaved tourists in various surveys conducted around the world (

At different times throughout history have different nations

earned the reputation of harbouring the

most poorly behaved travelers


Tourists' and travelers’ behaviour including inappropriate, disrespectful, offensive and also exploitative behavior comes in many forms. Depending on how undesirable or intolerable the demonstrated attitudes and behaviors are to those who feel affronted, encounters can result in feelings of alienation, anger and resentment among various parties.

  • Have you witnessed any behaviour by tourists and travelers that you felt was inappropriate if not even upsetting while traveling in distant lands or in your own home country?

  • Or in retrospect, have you found yourself behaving ‘badly’ during any of your own travels, be that overseas or at home.

Tourists’ 'mis'behavior has been attributed to a lack of

international travel experience.

Those who have traveled internationally more extensively are generally regarded as more sensitive and attuned to what might be regarded as inappropriate and unwelcome behavior.

For many Chinese tourists international travel is only a fairly recent privilege they are able to take advantage of. Therefore, relative inexperience in international travel for a high percentage of Chinese travelers could be seen as the reason for the growing number of stories about Chinese tourists’ misbehavior.

The above two examples of individual or group mis-behavior by tourists served to show that these are often ascribed to

  • different national cultural background and/or

  • different kinds and levels of international travel experience.

Yet, another perspective is worth considering.

People in the role of tourists often act differently when they are traveling compared to when they are in their home environment where they uphold different roles in their daily lives such as student, spouse, parent, athlete, TV personality or lawyer for example. In the role of tourists people can be seen enacting rituals and norms different to their normal daily way of life at home.

It is not uncommon to witness people during their holidays embracing what Jafar Jafari (1987) referred to as 'touristhood'. Touristhood is a state of mind where shared attitudes and values are more in line with fellow travelers rather than with people at home, resulting in different kinds of behavior.

At tourist destinations tourists are entering a tourism culture

with different values and behavioral norms

than those in their home environment.

It may be tempting to stereotype and label anybody's behavior based on their national cultural background, or any other single cultural denominator for that matter. Yet, it is important to remember that the behaviors we witness among ourselves and other tourists varies, for instance:

  • Across people from different cultures.

  • Across people within cultures.

  • Across people from different genders, different age groups, life stages,and the roles they are playing at any given time.

  • Across people with different kinds of life experiences.

  • Across people with different kinds and levels of international travel experiences.

  • Across different situations and locations where travel encounters take place.

Living in today’s highly media-centric world, anybody’s behavior is easily exposed, often represented from a one-sided perspective. We therefore benefit from being mindful and review events and stories from different angles so not to get caught in sophisticated stereotyping.

Rightly or wrongly, tourists and travelers have been and continue to be judged and labelled, and often these labels ‘stick’. And this principle applies to our living contexts at home where it is just as easy to fall prey to unquestioned beliefs, assumptions and habits of communication and behaviour.

by Dr. Birgit Trauer

Painting by Mia Bowyer

© The Cultural Angle October 2016 Image © Mia Bowyer, Sydney 2016

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