There was a time when what happened on tour, stayed on tour. Not any more. Smartphones have changed the game, allowing holidaymakers (and hosts) to capture and upload clips of shocking behaviour to social media sites in glorious HD. Then there are the travel companies that gleefully divulge examples of nationally ranked naughtiness.
According to a 2015 survey by Hotels.com, Argentinians are most likely to steal items (not including toiletries) from their rooms. Sticky-fingered Singaporeans took silver, so to speak, while Hongkongers were among the more trustworthy hotel guests.
But which nationality horrifies locals the most and leaves fellow citizens cringing with embarrassment at their antics? In no particular order, let the crude stereotyping begin.
We’re all familiar with the airport check-in-desk meltdowns, assaults on cabin crew and vandalism at archaeological sites – not forgetting a propensity to urinate in public places. And who hasn’t thrown a few coins into a jet engine for good luck?
However, it’s also fair to point out that a whopping 122 million Chinese made outbound trips in 2016 and the overwhelming majority of those flag-following sightseers didn’t put a foot wrong.
Ironically, Chinese tour groups may end up being the saviours of the holiday industry in some parts of the world. They’re already helping to prop up destinations, such as Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia, that have suffered downturns in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.
British tourists are polite, friendly and considerate. But ply them with a few drinks and they’ll be running naked through the streets in no time. Some have perfected the inebriated hotel-balcony-to-pool jump, while others could pick a fight with their own shadow.
The mayor of Croatian resort island Hvar, fed up with loutish British tourists, last week announced fines of €700 (HK$6,200, US$800) for those caught drinking alcohol in public. Also this month, Portuguese police fired shots in the air to quell rioting British clubbers. The next headline-grabbing episode of debauchery is only an all-you-can-drink sangria session away.
While the more boisterous Brits tend to be teenagers, they’re not alone in giving the country a bad name. A food poisoning scam that involves claiming compensation from hotels for bogus illnesses has reached epidemic proportions in Spain and other European countries.
One couple, who allegedly suffered stomach cramps and severe diarrhoea, were rumbled when it was discovered they had enjoyed 109 alcoholic drinks during their holiday.
Ah, the Germans. Who else could carry off the beer belly and skimpy speedos look? (Who else would want to?) The Brits may have just discovered how to feign the symptoms of food poisoning but the sunbed-snagging Germans have turned complaining into an art form.
Rules are rules, and if the menu is monotonous or a bedroom lacks the terrace shown in the brochure, a claim for compensation is likely to follow. Teutonic tourists take their holidays so seriously, it’s hard to tell if they are actually having fun, says Andrew Eames, of travel website germanyiswunderbar.com, adding that the eagle-eyed Germans don’t miss a thing – except perhaps the scenery.
“If an itinerary says the transfer from the airport includes cold towels, soft drinks and snacks, then they will insist on cold towels, soft drinks and snacks ... even if it means not noticing what’s out of the window.”
Far more accomplished at hosting tourists than being tourists, the stereotypical American vacationer thinks everyone should do things his way. And if they don’t, the answer is usually to throw fistfuls of dollars around until they do.
Fortunately, the loud know-it-all who disrespects local culture and dresses like a professional golfer on acid (once known as the Ugly American, a term that derived from the title of a 1948 photo of a rotund tourist in Cuba) is a disappearing breed.
Nevertheless, there’s still the odd bull-in-a-china-shop type who thinks it’s OK to bad-mouth foreigners and shoulder barge Balkan prime ministers if they get in his way.
Israeli travellers are renowned for being rude, impatient, noisy and high on drugs, according to Yael Miller, writing in the Tel Aviv-based newspaper Haaretz. The knock-on effect of arguing about the price of rooms and cheating hoteliers, she explains, is that some establishments have unofficial “no-Israeli” policies.
Such behaviour does little to improve the nation’s international image or make life any easier for other Israelis, laments a Lonely Planet travel forum contributor. “One of the worst feelings when travelling is checking into a hotel, showing your passport and seeing the friendly welcome instantly evaporate.”
In their defence, many younger Israeli backpackers have just completed military service and travel in large, demob-happy groups. While tales of antisocial antics are commonplace, the conduct is arguably no worse than that of other young globetrotters.
Ultimately, though, hosts tolerate binge-drinking Brits or Chinese tourists defecating outside the Louvre because of the money they spend. Penny pinchers who insult local sensibilities aren’t always given the same leeway.
Russian tourists are the unsmiling masters of the cultural faux pas and practitioners of the “no one likes us; we don’t care” approach to travel. While there are worse misdemeanours, the Russian Foreign Ministry decided things were serious enough for them to produce a tourism etiquette brochure offering helpful tips that included “refrain from prodding Kenyans and calling them monkeys”.
A falling rouble has translated into fewer Russians hitting the road in recent times, and in some places they’re starting to be missed.
A couple of years back, a Sri Lankan told me he found Russians surly, impolite and prone to getting wildly drunk and smashing up hotel furniture. His views weren’t unusual – 42 per cent of Russians believe their compatriots are the worst-behaved tourists. When we spoke recently, the same man ruefully admitted that he was starting to feel the economic impact of their absence and wanted to know how long it would be before the rouble bounced back.
7 The Worst Tourists of All
Ask a hotel receptionist, taxi driver or bartender who they think are the most irritating, unpleasant and demanding holidaymakers and there’s a good chance it won’t be any of the nationalities listed above.
In provincial Thailand, hotel employees tense up when self-important sightseers from Bangkok arrive in fancy 4x4s, start shouting orders and showing off. Likewise, taverna owners on peaceful Greek islands dread it when affluent day trippers from Athens show up, start bossing staff around and noisily dispute bills.
So there you have it: the worst-behaved are often domestic tourists. Remember that, all you city folk, on your next outing to Shek O or Sai Kung.