Survey conducted in 15 countries was commissioned by the Saudi Tourism Authority and published ahead of this year’s World Tourism Day in Riyadh.

International tourists are less likely to consider exploring unfamiliar tourist destinations, opting to travel to locations that they are more familiar with, according to an international survey published today.

The survey of over 17,500 people, commissioned by the Saudi Tourism Authority and published ahead of this year’s World Tourism Day in Riyadh, was carried out in 15 countries across Asia, Africa, America, Europe and the Middle East. While results vary between geographies, the study reveals that 66% of tourists prefer traveling to countries that provide familiarity, while 67% tend to travel to destinations that they have previously visited or have heard about through their network, such as family and friends.

There are some global differences in the findings with 90% of tourists from Middle Eastern countries seeing familiarity with the destination as a key factor in making travel decisions, while British (62%), French (75%), Chinese (68%) and Japanese (74%) tourists feel more comfortable travelling to places that they know less about.

The implication for those destinations that have a developing tourism sector with less spending power for international promotional efforts is that they will lack the ability to generate the familiarity which is clearly an important factor for people when choosing where to travel. On the other hand, for the more mature tourism destinations, their challenge is to encourage tourists away from the hotspot locations and into their lesser-known regions.

Resonating with previous studies which found that 80% of tourists visit just 10% of the world’s tourism destinations, the stark findings of this survey not only emphasize tourists’ preference for familiar destinations but also shed light on the need for more sustainable tourism practices worldwide.

Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief Executive Officer and a Member of the Board of the Saudi Tourism Authority, said: “The findings of this international survey give us great insight into the trends and habits of global tourists and how important a sense of familiarity is to them when choosing destinations.

“However, familiarity does not mean that destinations need to compromise their authenticity as the research also supports the notion 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 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 less familiar destinations. I look forward to discussing the results of this survey with my peers during World Tourism Day in Riyadh this week to explore how, collectively, we continue to make all corners of the world inviting and accessible for all.”

The results support recent news reports from nations, such as Croatia and France, who have implemented measures to better control high volumes of tourists in their most popular destinations. The city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, has implemented a “Respect the City” campaign to manage tourism and minimize its impacts, while French Tourism Minister Olivia Gregoire asserted that France needed to better manage influxes during peak season that threatened “the environment, the quality of life for locals, and the experiences of its visitors.”

Of tourists that have ventured to new destinations, 83% report that the experience changed or broadened their perspective providing compelling evidence of the profound impact of tourism in connecting people and enhancing mutual understanding.

Commissioned by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the global survey was conducted ahead of this year’s World Tourism Day (WTD), which will be hosted in Riyadh from 27th – 28th September. WTD 2023 will unite global tourism ministers, industry leaders and sector experts under the theme “Tourism and Green Investments.”

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.