Ah, tourists. If you rely on them to earn a crust, they are wonderful people. But for everyone else, they can be rather tiresome.
They shuffle slowly along the pavement, gawping at Google Maps as they struggle to find their way. They inexplicably stop in doorways, oblivious to the bottleneck of apoplectic commuters they have created. They bruise the toes of fellow pedestrians with their wheelie suitcases. They nab the last spare table at your favourite restaurant. They willingly spend time in places like Madame Tussauds. They ride around in silly open-top buses, camera in hand, gormless look on face.
So spare a thought for the good people of Andorra. This little landlocked principality, measuring 181 square miles and home to 83,523 people, receives more than 3 million overseas visitors each year, which means (according to UNWTO statistics for 2019, the most recent “normal” year for travel) it is the country with the most tourists per capita. For every local just trying to go about their day, there are 37 human obstacles clutching selfie-sticks.
It is one of 66 countries where annual visitors outnumber residents, with diminutive nations (see Monaco and Malta) and tropical islands (like Aruba, Anguilla and Palau) making up the majority. But a few larger nations appear on the list too.
Croatia, with 17.35m tourists and 3.89m locals, has a hefty ratio of 4.463:1, putting it 19th on the list. Austria, Greece, Denmark, Portugal and the UAE all have more than twice as many annual tourists as residents. For Britain, a nation of 67.03m citizens and 39.42m annual visitors, the ratio is a slightly more manageable 1:0.588.
One could be forgiven for assuming Andorra’s position atop the touristy table is down to its status as a tax haven, and it’s true that many people from neighbouring France and Spain are lured to its rather unsightly capital, Andorra la Vella, in search of cut-price luxury goods, electronics and cigarettes. But the UNWTO’s figures refer only to overnight visitors, so it does seem deserving of its number-one ranking.
Beyond that scruffy entry-point, Andorra is heaven for outdoorsy types – consisting, as it does, almost entirely of mountains. In winter, folk in garish attire flock to its three ski areas: Grandvalira, Ordino Arcalis and Pal-Arinsal. In summer, hikers and cyclists tackle the same peaks. Traditional mountain restaurants, or borda, provide hearty sustenance, and it possesses one of Europe’s largest thermal spas, Caldea, the ideal place for a revitalising rubdown.
Tweak the calculations slightly, and a new “winner” emerges. Andorra might have the most tourists per capita, but at least the locals have 181 square miles of mountains to which they can escape. Macau, on the other hand, is just 11 square miles. Yet it welcomed a whopping 18.63m tourists in 2019, giving this special administrative region of China more tourists per square mile than any destination on the planet – 1.69m, to be precise.
Many visit with just one thing in mind: money. Macau is a casino hub par excellence, the “Monte Carlo of the Orient”, with games of chance accounting for half its GDP. With gambling banned across the rest of China, it is an irresistible attraction for tourists from both the mainland and Hong Kong. In fact, its gambling revenue exceeds even that of Las Vegas. And the similarities with Sin City do not end there – those 11 square miles contain 22 five-star hotels, including familiar names such as the Wynn and the Venetian.
What about the Vatican City?
We thought you’d never ask. The UNWTO doesn’t possess arrivals data for this microstate, because you cannot spend the night. Therefore it doesn’t appear on our tables. But yes, if you were counting daytrippers, it would surely scoop the prize.
It has just 764 permanent inhabitants, measures a titchy 0.2 square miles, and receives – according to some sources – 6 million visitors a year. That’s 7,853 tourists per resident or 31.58 million per square mile.
The world’s least touristy country
At the other end of the scale is Bangladesh. With a population of 169.8m but only 323,000 annual visitors, it welcomes just 0.002 tourists per resident per year, making it perhaps the least touristy country on Earth. According to Alistair and Gill Campbell, travel writers who have been there numerous times, we’re all missing out.
“We flock in our millions to neighbouring India, but mention that you’re planning a trip to Bangladesh and you’ll be met with stunned disbelief,” they told The Telegraph. “It hits the headlines when there’s bad news, such as floods, but its steady economic growth and stable government are barely mentioned.
“Very few tour companies run trips, despite direct flights from the UK, low costs on the ground and much to explore: there are tigers and rare dolphins, ancient mosques and temples, colourful bazaars, floating markets and rolling hills covered in tea bushes.
“Bangladesh is never going to be mainstream and that, maybe, is the beauty of it. It is small and special and endlessly surprising.”
Other underrated places
When it comes to tourists per square mile, Chad props up the table. It is vast – 486,180 square miles – but welcomed only 79,000 overnight visitors in 2019, or 0.16 per square mile. Its draws include the lunar-like Tibesti Mountains, the Ennedi Plateau – with monoliths that wouldn’t look out of place in Utah - and Zakouma National Park, the closest “Big Five” safari destination to Europe, with, in 2018, six black rhinos flown in from South Africa to join lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo.
Unfortunately, the Foreign Office’s travel advice for the country is strict: it warns against all but essential travel to the southern half, and against all travel to the northern half and border areas, citing “potential for instability”.
Of more obvious interest is Brazil, a nation of samba rhythms, snaking rivers and sandy beaches. Underrated? Surely not. Yet according to the data, it welcomes just 6.35m tourists per year – that’s 1.94 per square mile (180th out of 191 countries) and 0.031 per capita (172nd).
Brazil has made efforts to address this unrealised potential in recent years, removing visa hurdles for visitors from the US, Canada, Australia and Japan (Britons could already visit visa-free), but a lack of cheap flights tends to hinder its growth.
We couldn’t find non-stop November flights from the UK to Rio de Janeiro for less than £800 return (courtesy of BA), and low-cost services, launched by Norwegian in 2018 (“one-way fares to Rio from £240!”), have long since fallen by the wayside.
Chris Moss, Telegraph Travel’s South America expert, highlights another factor: a lack of self-promotion. “Brazil is generally blind to non-Brazilian news and culture,” he explains. “A continent-sized country, it is somewhat inward looking and notorious for underinvesting in tourism promotion. It has never really pushed anything but Rio or, more recently, the Pantanal. It’s such a pity as it’s a wonderfully diverse country. In São Paulo, the art and architecture blew me away. But no one goes there!”