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The World Economic Forum released The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013, providing research on how global communities can expand this part of their financial infrastructure. It sampled 140 countries.
An interesting aspect of the study, which was graphically depicted by the Washington Post’s World Views blog, is what places were more or less “welcoming” towards foreign visitors. The results will be surprising for many, and, as stated in the Washington Post article, “there is no easy ‘grand unifying theory’ … no single variable that explains the outcomes.”
That part of the research was based on a single question: “How welcome are foreign visitors in your country?” with a scale of 1 = very unwelcome to 7 = very welcome. Most travellers can agree that this question is subjective. After all, what does it mean to be “foreign?” Are the researchers referring to vacationers? People travelling for business? Expatriates? Study abroad students?
Is it fair to judge travellers who show up for a week to Instagram the hell out of Paris and drink French wine until they puke, against anthropologists on long-term research projects studying gender roles in Syria? What about military systems from other countries? Were those counted in the study? Isn’t it understandable that a country might not like foreigners who invade and bomb up their homes?
On the map, I looked for the countries I’d visited. The United Kingdom, high on the welcome scale, is where I punched my traveller V-Card. However, I remember locals mumbling “Damn bloody tourist” when they bumped into me on the Tube, and my English friends all made fun of my American customs. The people I encountered weren’t outright “welcoming,” and it took some time to win them over. I needed to show them that I wasn’t just some obnoxious vacationer making phallic jokes about Big Ben. But that’s not a country-specific feeling, that’s universal courtesy.
Contrastingly, Slovakia is nearly dark red, but it’s one of the coolest, friendliest places I’ve ever been to. I lived in various parts of the country, and was met with nothing short of kindness. My Slovak friends were curious about my culture, and I showed a genuine interest in theirs. One of them even told me, “I wish more people visited Slovakia. But people don’t even know we’re a country.” For many of them, I was the first American they had ever met.
So perhaps it has to do with larger aspects of a community. Slovakia might seem less friendly because, let’s face it, how many foreigners speak Slovak? It’s hard to communicate within the country otherwise, and communication is a huge part of making someone feel welcome in a new place. And maybe Thailand is one of the most welcoming countries in the world because of all the income it generates via tourism.
China I’m surprised about as well. They are probably one of the largest exporters of, well, everything, they are fast becoming an economic super power, and with a rating of 5.5, they are apparently unwelcoming to the people who buy most of their crap? Come on.
Also, not every country was surveyed, which I found really weird. According to the study, Ghana has a welcome rating of 6.4, but its neighbor Togo, a similarly friendly country which the study even lists as one of the “Top 25 least-restrictive destinations,” isn’t even colored in. There doesn’t seem to be any political or cultural issues that might have affected Togo’s inclusion in the study, so perhaps the researchers just forgot about Togo? They also forgot Belize, one of the most popular vacation destinations in Central America. It’s not even listed anywhere within the report, so like, does it even exist?
Granted, some places just make it hard for foreign visitors, via strict visa requirements (like Russia) or political agendas (North Korea?). I feel like I’m missing out on the awesomeness that is Cuba, as told by my Canadian and European friends who frequently vacation there. So Americans might feel like Cuba is unwelcoming because of Castro, or Communism, but it’s really the United States’ weird currency-exchange rules that prevent most of us from traveling there.
How, really, do you rank a country’s welcomeness? And who do you ask? Political leaders? Random people off the street? If someone came up to you and said “Hey dude, is your country welcoming of foreign visitors?” how would you react? A man from New York might have one response, but a woman from Arizona might say something totally different.