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

Oct 26, 2014 by

[This post was originally published in March 2013]


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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