Tourists behaving badly?

19th February 2015

This grafitti by a teenage tourist on a 3,500 year old temple in Luxor caused outrage across the world.

This grafitti by a teenage tourist on a 3,500 year old temple in Luxor caused outrage across the world.


The Chinese government has issued guidance reminding Chinese citizens to ‘behave properly’ whilst travelling abroad over the Lunar New Year or risk the punishment of public shaming on their return. This follows from highly publicised incidents of Chinese tourists ‘behaving badly’ in recent years with allegations of being rude, pushy, spitting and worse. But such accusations of bad behaviour are certainly not unique to Chinese tourists. Indeed, British people are used to the behaviour of their compatriots hitting the headlines, with the latest news being that the popular party destination of Magaluf is set to ban tourists from drinking on the streets in an attempt to curtail alcohol-fuelled ‘bad behaviour.’

When cultures come into contact, there will inevitably be behavioural norms in one that seem unusual or even rude to the other. But this is not the only cause of complaints about tourist behaviour. Much, it seems, comes from an effect of travel, from being outside one’s usual environment. Psychologists have found that some people tend to engage in more risky behaviours whilst abroad. The new environment seems to release people from psychological and socio-cultural constraints that would normally help govern their behaviour. Interestingly, it seems this reaction is not universal, but differs across cultures, ages and individuals and depends in part on the way that we view other people and places in the world.1 A sense of other places as being not ‘the real world’, exotic and even inferior, may increase the level of risk-taking and lack of attention to localised norms of behaviour. Other research suggests that in some groups of tourists, ‘bad behaviour’ has become expected, indeed demanded, by the groups themselves, their wider cultural context, the local tourist industry and even the consumerist society from which they come. From this point of few, instead of being the manifestation of inner desires, freed from the constraints of social expectations, these ‘bad behaviours’ may be another way of conforming.2

As the world becomes increasingly inter-connected and global tourism continues to grow apace, these issues about how to behave, and how to encourage appropriate behaviour that respects the needs of holiday-maker and host, become increasingly important. The ITC believes that by exploring the fundamental motivations for human travel from a variety of perspectives, we can better understand why we travel in the way that we do. The ITC’s Why Travel? project has engaged experts from across the arts and sciences to explore these issues and to offer important lessons for the future of travel. For more information on the project, including news stories and videos, see
1. The Relationship between Risk-Taking, Sensation-Seeking, and the Tourist Behavior of Young Adults: A Cross-Cultural StudyJournal of Travel Research February 200442: 251-260
2. Briggs, Daniel (2013) Deviance and Risk on Holiday: An Ethnography of British Tourists in Ibiza