Monday 22 July 2019

Revealed: The world’s least (and most) touristy countries

Want to skip the crowds on your next trip? This analysis compares visitor numbers with population sizes around the world...

India: a modern-day fairytale.
India: a modern-day fairytale.
A Sudanese man with his donkey near Khartoum. Photo: Deposit
Cancun, Mexico. Photo: Deposit
The outskirts of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. Photo: Deposit
Grandidier's Baobab (Adansonia grandidieri) forest lining road near Morondava, Madagascar. Photo: Getty

Oliver Smith

If you’d prefer not to be rubbing shoulders with other travellers on holiday, head to Bangladesh.

The South Asian nation is the world’s least touristy destination, according to an analysis of World Bank data by San Francisco-based analysts Priceonomics, which compared the number of annual overseas visitors to each country with the size of its population.

With more than 160 million citizens, but just 125,000 tourists in 2014 (the most recent year for which the World Bank has figures), residents of Bangladesh outnumber annual visitors by a remarkable 1,273 to one.

For comparison, Ireland has a population of around 4.8 million, and welcomed over 9 million visitors in 2017. At a ratio of around two locals per tourist, that theoretically puts it among the most "touristy" destinations (see below).

With its excellent trekking, fine beaches and tiger safaris, Bangladesh has been previously touted as the next big thing in travel. However, ongoing security fears, flooding and extreme poverty have kept all but the most intrepid travellers away.

The outskirts of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. Photo: Deposit

Top 25 Least touristy destinations*

*Destination (Locals per tourist)

  1. Bangladesh 1273
  2. Guinea 372
  3. Moldova 323
  4. India 169
  5. Sierra Leone 144
  6. Niger 142
  7. Ethiopia 126
  8. Chad 111
  9. Madagascar 106
  10. Mali 102
  11. Burkina Faso 92
  12. Belarus 69
  13. Sudan 58
  14. Cote d'Ivoire 47
  15. Tanzania 47
  16. Benin 44
  17. Papua New Guinea 41
  18. Angola 41
  19. Tajikistan 39
  20. Venezuela 36
  21. Nepal 36
  22. Kenya 36
  23. Brazil 32
  24. Uganda 30
  25. Solomon Islands 28

Among the other least touristy countries, according to this model, are a fair few you may not want to visit. Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Venezuela, for example, are all on the UK Foreign Office’s “do not go” list.

But there are a few underrated options worth exploring:

India: 169 locals per tourist

India: a modern-day fairytale.

India’s draws are well known. But this vast nation – home to 36 World Heritage Sites and described by travel expert Gill Charlton as “the most engaging, colourful, chaotic, spiritual and life-affirming country in the world” – welcomes just over 15 million annual visitors (including 800,000 Britons). That’s fewer than Macao.

Charlton adds: “It is an assault on the senses – all of them, nearly all of the time. I have been visiting the country for 25 years and still find myself full of wonder at the diversity of its cultural riches, from temple sculptures and murals that rival the best of the Italian Renaissance to the artistry of ordinary people in a land where much is still made by hand.”

Ethiopia: 126 locals per tourist


The East African country but can boast some of the continent’s most dramatic landscape. Highlights include the monolithic rock-hewn churches at Lalibela; the Simien Mountains National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site that is home to a number of endangered species, including Ethiopian wolf and walia ibex; and the otherworldly Danakil Depression, with its colourful sulphur and salt lakes.

Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, meanwhile, is home to some of Africa’s oldest tribes.

More: Ethiopia's Northern Lights: From rock-hewn churches to surprising coffee ceremonies

Madagascar: 106 locals per tourist

iw Madagascar.jpg
Grandidier's Baobab (Adansonia grandidieri) forest lining road near Morondava, Madagascar. Photo: Getty

The world’s fourth largest island is a must for nature lovers, and one of 17 countries in the world considered to be “megadiverse”. David Attenborough was so taken with the country he dedicated an entire series to its wildlife, 80 per cent of which can be found nowhere else on Earth.

Yet the country only welcomed 293,000 visitors in 2016.

More: Made in Madagascar: Natural highs in the land of the lemur

Sudan: 58 locals per tourist

A Sudanese man with his donkey near Khartoum. Photo: Deposit

This African nation is home to more pyramids than Egypt.

Travel Writer Chris Leadbeater explains: “The realm of the pharaohs reached far south of what is now delineated as Egypt – along the Nile, past what is now the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, and a considerable distance across the modern border. Here, in North Sudan, the Ancient Egyptians left behind a wealth of temples and pyramids – and, 42 centuries on, precious few tourists. That one word, ‘Sudan’, is the reason for the low traveller numbers at sites which, in a country with a less hair-raising image, would be a blur of coach parties and queues. The reality, as is often the way, is more pleasant than you might expect.”

Which is the world’s most touristy country?

Andorra is a budget spree.

So where are you most likely to bump into other travellers?

According to the study, it’s Andorra. This diminutive destination may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but Priceonomics reckons it has the highest number of tourists per local (32.4), making it the world’s most touristy country.

The rest of the top five comprised Aruba, Monaco, Bahrain and Palau. But what of the Vatican City? It has a population of just 1,000 but is visited by more than 5.5 million people each year – that’s around 5,500 tourists per local. Alas, it - like dozens of other nations, largely in conflict zones - does not appear in the World Bank’s records, so does not make Priceonomics’ list. 

The data is also a little dated. The World Bank does not have figures for any country after 2016 and there have been changes to both populations and annual arrivals since then. Iceland, for example, now received 2.2 million annual tourists, meaning they outnumber residents by more than six to one.

Top 25 most touristy destinations*

*Destination Tourists per local

  1. Andorra 32.4
  2. Aruba 10.4
  3. Monaco 8.7
  4. Bahrain 7.7
  5. Palau 6.7
  6. Malta 4
  7. Hong Kong 3.8
  8. The Bahamas 3.7
  9. Bermuda 3.4
  10. Iceland 3.1
  11. Maldives 3
  12. Austria 3
  13. Curacao 2.9
  14. Croatia 2.7
  15. Antigua and Barbuda 2.7
  16. Seychelles 2.6
  17. San Marino 2.3
  18. Estonia 2.2
  19. Montenegro 2.2
  20. Singapore 2.2
  21. Cyprus 2.1
  22. St Kitts and Nevis 2.1
  23. Greece 2
  24. Ireland 1.9
  25. Luxembourg 1.9

And the world’s most touristy city?

Cancun, Mexico. Photo: Deposit

A recent report from the World Tourism and Travel Council highlighted just how much some cities need your money.

Cancún, little more than a fishing village until the Seventies, relies on tourism for 49.6 per cent of its GDP, putting it ahead of Marrakesh (30.2 per cent) and Macau (29.3 per cent) of the 72 destinations to feature in the report.

Orlando, Venice, Dubrovnik, Antalya, Las Vegas, Dubai and Bangkok completed the top 10.

Furthermore, 37.7 per cent of Cancún’s residents are employed in the tourist trade, more than any other destination. Macau is second on 27.6 per cent.

Read more:

Irish Tourism in Numbers: From our most popular attraction to our least visited county... and more

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