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Does Stupidity in Tourism Have a Scientific Explanation?

Does Stupidity in Tourism Have a Scientific Explanation?
Joe Cortez

Can poor behavior from tourists be explained by science? Using previous research on wisdom and stupidity, two researchers say that bad decisions can not only be studied and understood, but even prevented prior to a traveler’s next adventure.

It’s no secret that travelers tend to act with fewer inhibitions as they travel around the world. Is there a scientific explanation why people leave their common sense at home when they visit a new city? A paper published in October 2020 in the peer-reviewed Tourism Recreation Research aims to answer the ultimate question about “Stupidity in Tourism.”

Stupidity in Tourism Closely Researched During COVID-19 Pandemic

The paper, written by Stephen Pratt of the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and Denis Tolkach of James Cook University in Australia, sets out to understand why travelers make poor decisions as tourists. Analyzing behavior through two theories of wisdom and stupidity, the researchers agree that traveler choices are made in four quadrants: loss and benefit to themselves, and loss and benefit to others.

“Various disciplines have called upon further exploration of stupidity. The issue is pertinent to tourism as well,” the two write in their article abstract. “Stupidity in tourism may occur due to the lack of sound judgment by those involved in tourism, and it can negatively impact tourists themselves, other people, animals, organizations, or destinations.”

The two argue that because travel is often a “hedonistic and liminal experience,” travelers themselves seek instant gratification at all costs – even when it is detrimental to themselves or others. In addition, travelers may not have a complete understanding of the local community norms and rules, or decide to disregard them entirely. As a result, tourists may decide to make decisions they wouldn’t normally make at home because of the lack of social constraints.

“Tourists, on the other hand, may not be aware of the commonly accepted rules of the host country. Alternatively, tourists might not want to follow these rules while on vacation,” the researchers write. “Some tourists are more likely to exhibit unethical and deviant behavior during travel than at home…as they indulge in a hedonic activity with fewer social constraints that are present in a place of usual residence.”

The research has specific context viewed the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although health officials pleaded with tourists to stay home, airports saw a significant increase in travelers leading up to and beyond the Christmas holiday weekend. In a subsequent article published to The Conversation, the two professors note that stupidity in travel is less about a person’s intelligence and more about their emotional state.

“We may be tempted to think a stupid person has certain demographic or psychological characteristics,” the two write at The Conversation. “However, anyone can behave stupidly, especially in unfamiliar environments — like holidays — where it is difficult to judge the right course of action.”

Stupidity in Tourism Can be Combated

Although the researchers provide several examples of stupidity in tourism in action, they note that it can be prevented. By participating in “smart tourism” through familiarization of local cultures and following warning signs, travelers can make responsible decisions as they travel. This includes following health recommendations, such as wearing a face covering and reconsidering which trips are “essential” in a pandemic.

“Education of tourists on how to behave during travels has some effect,” Pratt and Tolkach write on The Conversation. “But more importantly, tourists need to be self-aware. They need to consider what is likely to happen as a result of their behavior, how likely is it that things will go wrong, and whether they would do this at home.”

View Comments (20)


  1. bostontraveler

    December 28, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    Well, we have a huge population of idiots… 75 million of them! Great source of research in the US of A!

  2. sfcharles1

    December 29, 2020 at 5:31 am

    Stupidity in tourism is a rampant disease. From the lack of understanding other cultures to outright disrespect for nature (damaging coral reefs), to art, social mores (keep off the bloody grass), to outright drunkenness and rudeness. And that is that is really glaring, the tourist who looks at the world as his/her personal Disneyland, is loud, drunkenly demands attention, demands everyone kowtow to their wish because they are so special. It is ugly beyond belief and is a good reason to limit tourism.
    This sort of tourist ruins tourism for everyone, and ruins the very sites they visit. And let’s face it, it’s not just in tourism that they are “stupid”. They are stupid in their own countries as well – rude, surly “Karens” and male jerks, uneducated, unkind, unaware.
    The solution? Stop AirBnB and all the unlicensed tourism ‘hoteliers’, altogether. This will create the limits, and will also force the tourists who come to an area to be countable, and responsible for paying taxes to care for the society benefits they are enjoying. It will also lessen the horrible pressures being put on locals, who, when an area is popular, are forced out of housing – in their own city!
    This pandemic is the perfect time for cities, and countries to re-think the importance of the almighty tourist dollar, and start considering their own people first and foremost.
    And if you are a tourist, for goodness sakes, educate yourself, learn of the manners and mores of the places you are going to, and act like a guest, not a partier and predator.

  3. dhturk

    December 29, 2020 at 6:40 am

    “ “But more importantly, tourists need to be self-aware. They need to consider what is likely to happen as a result of their behavior,”

    This is a whole new concept to some cultures.

  4. fletchbo

    December 29, 2020 at 7:19 am

    While most travelers or tourists can relate to a relaxation of inhibitions, and “being stupid”, as is suggested here, there are other types of stupidity well-read courageous readers here recognize:
    1. tourists that will do whatever they want, are not educated on scientific evidence, and do not want to know the consequences
    2. tourists that are educated on scientific evidence, and do care about consequences, and realize that MOST of the governmental restrictions to protect people by locking them down show NO proof of stopping viral transmission… and continue to travel FREELY

    There are no RCTs showing cloth masks stop viral transmissions. If anyone can show me that, please do.

    STUPID is when people stop their LIFE for FEAR of a largely unstoppable infection that largely stumbles over those who WISELY optimized their immune system and metabolic health BEFORE this year of a bad respiratory infection, and will be immune after encountering it.

    The WISE will question governmentalism that shows no empirical evidence the lockdowns to include travel restrictions work. The WISE will protect the small percentage of the vulnerable, NOT restrict the large percentage of the non-vulnerable.

    The stupid will reply to this comment by parroting the propaganda of the last 9 months.

    STUPID is those that blame the public COMPLETELY for viral spread when centuries of data show respiratory viral infections follow a predictable seasonal pattern of infection that will peak at times of solar radiation minimum (winter solstice) and be largely unseen at solar radiation minimum, summer solstice. Seasonality is much more of a factor than human behavior. Doubt this? Watch the COVID-linked daily death count drop in all of North America and Europe above 30 degrees N latitude beginning no later than Feb 2021.

  5. schelsr

    December 29, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Generally, US tourists are generally rather graceless when traveling internationally. But, we do have Las Vegas as a perfect local object lesson for stupid, risky, self-destructive behavior. Fortunately, the Chinese tourists make us look rather poised and gracious.

    Hey “Bostontraveler”, the 75 million idiots you’re referencing: Did they vote for Biden? Asking for a friend.

  6. MEaton

    December 29, 2020 at 10:51 am

    The previous article re the couple kicked off a flight because their 2yo wouldn’t wear a mask, is a great example. Any intelligent parent would have practiced wearing a mask at home, long before a flight. Folks, this is all just common sense and respect for other travelers. We shouldn’t have to risk our lives flying because others are too lazy to properly rear their children….

  7. Hawkeyefan

    December 29, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    Reading these comments is a hoot. MEaton says a 2 year old not being forced to wear a mask is risking his life. Your a sick individual – YOU need to stay home and leave young toddlers alone. Let me guess, this article was all geared toward shaming people that don’t wear masks every waking second of the day. Rubbish.

  8. lyst

    December 29, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    If anyone believes that a 2 year old not wearing a mask is risking your life, I’d say you drank a ton of kool-aid!

  9. Jaytara

    December 29, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    @Hawkeyefan , don’t twist the narrative, no one said anything about people that “don’t wear masks every waking second of the day”. It’s when you are outside your house, dimwit.
    And @schelsr, tell your friend the “75 million idiots” voted for the toilet-bound tweeter aka Orange Buffoon, 82+ million voted for the President-Elect

  10. Alex_I

    December 29, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    I agree that in many cases tourists both behave and look as out of place. But why this makes them stupid?
    I would even argue, that by experiencing different cultures would make them ultimately smarter than the folks who are not stepping out of their basement.
    Safe travel even during the pandemic!

  11. fish3d

    December 30, 2020 at 5:45 am

    Read about Vietnam. 95 million people. Very few deaths from the virus. Rdcently fewwer cases than the White House. SMART use of lockdowns and masks.

  12. ulxima

    December 30, 2020 at 6:29 am

    “There are no RCTs showing cloth masks stop viral transmissions. If anyone can show me that, please do.”

    You got a point, nobody can show cloth masks stop viral transmission. Current RCTs show FFP2/FFP3/N95/KN95 and surgical masks reduce viral transmission by a sensible amount.

  13. Flier Tuck

    December 30, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Oh, fletchbo, I know I likely won’t change *your* mind but someone else might think that you know what you’re talking about. This is for them.

    No reputable authority has claimed masks will *stop* the virus. The overwhelming science-based evidence shows masks and distancing are tactics that will *reduce the risk* of transmission. What is indeed stupid is willfully ignoring this overwhelming evidence *and spreading it* while claiming to be a “well-read courageous reader.”

    The planes we all love to travel in won’t take off unless everyone has their seat belt fastened. They don’t stop death or injury on planes and cars, but they *reduce the risk*. Helmets for bicycles and motorcycles, same. Flu shots, same. Washing hands after using the toilet, same. Looking both ways before crossing the street, same.

    @fletchbo, you poor thing. Bless your heart. If it makes you feel all “courageous” to not wear a mask then you just be that courageous person! Just don’t bark about it online and stay well away from me. The truly courageous at least respect other people’s choices without inflicting poor judgment and potential infection on other people.

  14. MiscMel70

    December 30, 2020 at 11:37 am

    As someone who has traveled the world, please stop with the “US citizens are the worse” nonsense. Me and the large group of travelers I know and talk with via social media all say the same thing…that narrative is BS. People who still say that about Americans are usually people who actually DO NOT travel and are simply repeating what they have heard. Americans are friendly (so friendly that it’s weird to many others around the world) and are the quickest to be open to questions (and criticism) about our country with the utmost graciousness.

    To avoid seeming racist (since I don’t have time to add context), I’ll avoid mentioning countries where the citizens are horrible BOTH at home and as guests of other countries. I’ll just say when I pose this question to actual American world travelers they all say people from the same 3 countries are the worse, without fail. And 2 of those countries I always hear mentioned (always) are the 2 that I have found to be almost despicable….and they were not nice when I visited their countries either.

    Side note: For all those “mask don’t work types”. Funny how well it’s worked in countries where it was mandated (Vietnam, China among others). Double funny how you CovIDIOTS also would lose your wigs if your surgeon showed up for surgery without wearing one….since they don’t work.

  15. SamirD

    December 31, 2020 at 9:43 am

    So my dad died from covid because people like fletchbo spread it to him–you killed my father!! Why the F didn’t you just stay home until you were vaccinated? Was that too much to ask for saving a human life?

    It is surprising how many people will not pause for a year to save another human being’s life. Masks may not be the solution, but doing whatever it takes to prevent the spread would have been. This scenario is a reflection on how inhumane humanity has become. If we all die, it will be by our own hands.

  16. bostontraveler

    December 31, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    @shelser I guess you’re one of those 75 million that fail to grasp the tremendous damage Trump and his criminal entourage have inflicted on our democracy. Err, and by the way, more than 75 million voted for Biden… just saying.

    We have the unique distinction of a grossly uneducated, Fox-fed portion of the society that can’t grasp the basic concepts of science.

    American tourists aren’t generally the worst. The loudest, yes, by far.

  17. tj.d

    January 1, 2021 at 7:27 am

    I know for me, lapses are just from exhaustion navigating new environments. I give more attention to trying to do the right things than most people, so my experience doesn’t quite match what you’re describing. Still, people who are generally less aware probably also exhaust themselves sooner and are thus more prone to doing “stupid” things. It’s good to decide early on what is worth worrying about and what isn’t.

  18. podaalho

    January 6, 2021 at 7:56 am

    I just figured that most tourists don’t give a ****, but the science behind it also makes sense to me.

  19. KenTarmac

    January 8, 2021 at 6:26 am

    You can’t fix stupid.

  20. Sydneyberlin

    January 14, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    Oh- this discussion had to turn into the usual US-typical Trump vs. Biden fight, did it? Sigh.

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