Vandalism, tantrums, inappropriate selfies – oh my! Why are today’s tourists so badly behaved? 

This summer, every day seems to bring a new shameful headline of another entitled tourist behaving badly somewhere around the world. Is this the summer of bad tourists, or is it a sign of what’s to come?

While there is no global database of problematic travelers, what is clear, according to academics, psychologists, and travel industry professionals, is that tourists are frequently going rogue. 

Is it Pandemic Travel Anxiety or Main Character Energy?

With travel now surging to its highest peak since before the pandemic, people across the globe are clamoring for clout on social media. This quest for Instagram-worthy moments and TikTok fame has led to some outrageous and often destructive behavior. From drunk Americans sleeping off a bender in the Eiffel Tower to a 19-year-old French tourist carving a heart into the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and two separate cases of tourists defacing the Colosseum in Rome (both of which were caught on video), it’s clear that some tourists are taking their pursuit of “main character energy” to new heights. 

In July, a 17-year-old Canadian tourist even admitted to scratching his initials into an 8th-century temple in Japan’s Nara prefecture. Furthermore, some Americans recently threw e-scooters down the Spanish Steps in Rome, causing £21,000 worth of damage to the 18th-century landmark. These incidents are just a few examples, not to mention the tourists who can’t seem to leave bison alone in Yellowstone, those who assault flight attendants during flights, or those getting drunk, naked, and violent in Bali.  

American tourists damaging the Spanish Steps in Rome with their e-scooters. (Photo credit: Polizia Roma Capitale)

These antics beg the question: Are these tourists seeking thrills or just seeking attention? 

Collective Outrage and Accountability

Although badly behaved tourists have certainly existed throughout history, what sets this summer apart is the growing prevalence of reports about troublesome travelers. However, this could ultimately be a positive development. With each new report of cringe-worthy, tone-deaf, or just plain disrespectful behavior, our collective outrage is rising. This growing awareness is leading to what could be a moment of reckoning for bad tourists. Ironically, social media accounts like @PassengerShaming and @BadTourist242 are also being used to call out insensitive and disrespectful behavior.

The issue at hand isn’t just about individuals acting out; it’s also about the privilege that comes with being a traveler. Tourist hotspots are beginning to demand that visitors respect local culture and the environment. Places like Bali and Iceland are asking tourists to commit to responsible behavior, while destinations like Palau require eco-pledges upon arrival. Some locations are even implementing stricter regulations, such as Australia’s ban on climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) due to its sacred significance to the Aboriginal people. 

Governments and communities are taking a stand against this surge of unruly tourists. Fernando Valdés, the Spanish tourism minister, has openly condemned such behavior, and Balearic resorts are implementing measures like drink limits to curb excessive drinking.

Meanwhile, Amsterdam, fed up with the antics of inebriated visitors, has recently launched a “stay-away” ad campaign discouraging rowdy behavior from tourists, sending a clear message that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. 

Another aspect to investigate is how pop culture has influenced tourist behavior. Until 2015, the Jesuit Stairs in Dubrovnik were just another beautiful example of Baroque architecture in the Croatian city. And then “Game of Thrones” happened. 

Game of Thrones Season 5: Episode #10 – Cersei’s Walk of Atonement (HBO)

A pivotal scene in the show involved Cersei Lannister’s “walk of shame” down the Jesuit Stairs in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Since the episode aired, fans have flocked to the landmark to recreate the scene, often stripping naked in the process. This behavior has disrupted the neighborhood, with bell-ringing and people throwing objects at the shame-ee. Locals have reported tourists getting drunk and screaming “shame” at all hours.  

Dubrovnik has successfully curbed some of the public nuisances through recent media campaigns, with online ads and posters around the city about proper etiquette. A new animated film about appropriate behavior also plays on Croatia Airlines flights, in the Dubrovnik Airport, and cruise terminals.

Final Thoughts 

The phenomenon of tourists misbehaving is a complex issue rooted in a variety of factors, from the allure of social media fame to a lack of awareness about the cultural and environmental significance of the places they visit. However, the backlash against such behavior, along with tourism marketing efforts by authorities and communities, suggests a potential shift in the travel landscape. 

As travelers, it’s crucial to recognize the responsibility that comes with the privilege of exploring the world and strive to leave a positive impact on the places we visit. By choosing respect over recklessness, we can collectively shape a future where travel headlines celebrate cultural enrichment, environmental preservation, and the beauty of responsible tourism. 

Do you have any stories of tourists behaving badly? Share them in the comments below, and let’s continue the conversation on responsible tourism.

Published by Merilyn Ritchie

Merilyn Ritchie is a co-founder and Senior Marketing Strategist at EX Media, where she helps clients of all sizes achieve their marketing goals. She's a skilled craftsperson of top-notch strategies and content, with a proven track record of success in a variety of industries, including small businesses, large non-profits, and tech startups. When she's not conjuring marketing magic, Merilyn can be found in the garden or with her nose buried in a book, fueling her passion for the written word. While she loathes talking about herself in the third person, she's been persuaded to do so from time to time. So it goes. You can catch her latest musings and insights by following her on Instagram at @merilynmcg.