An international YouGov survey of more than 17,500 people in 15 destinations reveals that nearly two-thirds of the world's population prioritises travelling to places their friends and family have already been, encouraging over-tourism in certain places and leaving other destinations undiscovered.
Sixty-six percent of tourists believe that travelling to a place they are familiar with is important, and just under half of those surveyed feel uncomfortable travelling to places they know little about.
However, of those who travel to new destinations, 83% say they return with a different or broader perspective.
International tourists are less likely to explore unfamiliar tourist destinations, opting instead to travel to places that are more familiar to them, according to an international YouGov survey released today.
The YouGov survey of more than 17,500 people, commissioned by the Saudi Tourism Authority and released ahead of this year's World Tourism Day in Riyadh, was conducted in 15 countries across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. While the results vary by geography, the study reveals that 66% of tourists prefer to travel to countries that are familiar to them, while 67% tend to travel to destinations they have visited before or have heard about through their contacts, such as family and friends.
There are some overall differences in the results: 90% of tourists from Middle Eastern countries consider familiarity with the destination to be a key factor in making travel decisions, while British (62%), French (75%), Chinese (68%) and Japanese (74%) tourists are more comfortable travelling to places they know less about.
The consequence for destinations with a developing tourism sector with less purchasing power for international promotion efforts is that they will lack the ability to generate the familiarity that is clearly an important factor for people when choosing where to travel. On the other hand, for more mature tourist destinations, the challenge is to encourage tourists away from the more touristy locations and towards less familiar regions.
In line with previous studies, which found that 80% of tourists visit only 10% of the world's tourist destinations, the stark findings of this survey not only highlight tourists' preference for well-known destinations, but also shed light on the need to adopt more sustainable tourism practices worldwide.
Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO and Board Member of the Saudi Tourism Authority, explained: "The results of this international survey give us a very clear picture of the trends and habits of tourists around the world and how important a sense of familiarity is to them when choosing a destination.
"However, familiarity does not mean that destinations have to compromise their authenticity, as the research also supports the idea that visiting new places deepens our appreciation of diverse cultures and fosters mutual understanding. When we travel, we are agents of good: we export our own cultures and we return home with new discoveries, new ideas and new perspectives.
"I hope that by highlighting how travel has the power to broaden perspectives, we will inspire more people to opt for lesser-known destinations. I look forward to discussing the results of this survey with my colleagues during this week's World Tourism Day in Riyadh to explore how, collectively, we can continue to make every corner of the world welcoming and accessible to all."
The findings support recent news from countries such as Croatia and France, which have implemented measures to better control the high volume of tourists in their most popular destinations. The city of Dubrovnik (Croatia) has launched a "Respect the City" campaign to manage tourism and minimise its impact, while French Tourism Minister Olivia Gregoire said France needed to better manage the influx during the high season, which threatened "the environment, the quality of life of the inhabitants and the experiences of its visitors".
83% of tourists who have ventured to new destinations say the experience has changed or broadened their perspective, demonstrating the profound impact of tourism in connecting people and improving mutual understanding.
The global survey, commissioned by the Saudi Tourism Authority, was conducted ahead of this year's World Tourism Day (WTD), which will be held in Riyadh on 27-28 September. WTD 2023 will bring together tourism ministers from around the world, industry leaders and sector experts under the theme "Green Tourism and Investment". Through a series of engaging sessions, panel discussions and workshops, participants will explore the essential role of tourism and global collaboration in driving prosperity, safeguarding cultures, preserving the environment and promoting a more harmonious and interconnected world.
About the Saudi Tourism Authority
The Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), established in June 2020, is responsible for marketing Saudi tourism destinations worldwide and developing the destination's offerings through programmes, packages and business support. Its mandate includes developing the country's unique assets and destinations, organising and participating in industry events, and promoting the Saudi tourism brand locally and abroad. The STA has 16 representative offices around the world, serving 38 countries.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations specialized agency for promoting tourism as a vehicle for equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. In partnership with its Member States, international organisations and the private sector, UNWTO promotes safe and seamless travel for all. UNWTO also works to make tourism the foundation of trust and international cooperation and a central pillar of growth and opportunity. As part of the wider United Nations system, UNWTO is at the forefront of global efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including through its ability to create decent jobs, promote equality and preserve natural and cultural heritage.
Author: Saudi Tourism Authority