Skip to content


This map of how popular different tourist places are was generated by an Estonian programmer using the number of photo uploads to a popular site. Yellow is the most touristy, followed by red, blue is not very touristy, but grey is nowheresville.

I am a little suspicious about the methodology after I saw Toledo, Ohio show up pretty yellow. However, otherwise the map seems plausible. Coasts and mountains show up about as much as you would expect, the BosWash and LosAngeSanEattle regions are hot, and nothing beats European Ye Olde Towne Squares. In the developing world, tourist spots are as expected, including the unjust and sad omission of Africa.

The next image shows a blow up of Africa.  The no-go regions are mostly the obvious ones (better book that vacation to Chad before it’s spoiled!), as are the Safaris and Coasts in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. Lesser known tourist success stories in Namibia and Ethiopia also show up.

I’m a little more mystified by a blow-up of West Africa. I know vaguely about the tourist success in Gambia and to a lesser extent, along the coast of Ghana. The hot spots in Bissau, Conakry, Freetown, Monrovia, Niamey, Bamako, Abidjan, Ouagadougou, and Abuja are a little more surprising — perhaps camera trigger-happy aid workers?

This entry was posted in Maps, Technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Vincent wrote:

    The Toledo Zoo perhaps? I know I’m planning to drive down there with my daughter this summer :)

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  2. Justin Smith wrote:

    Cedar Point point amusement park’s near Toledo, that could explain it.

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  3. Lets preserve our wildlife for present & future generations.

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  4. William Easterly wrote:

    Vincent and Justin, I didn’t have space to reveal my inside knowledge on Toledo; I grew up 20 mi south. Cedar Point is too far away. The zoo is indeed the only possible tourist attraction ( well, there is also a good art museum), but I am still puzzled. Bill

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  5. geckonomist wrote:

    africa: just the capital cities are yellow, I guess. They do get visited a lot, perhaps not by tourists but certainly by the members of the diaspora returning home and putting pictures of their family & friends visits on a popular site …

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  6. Jeff Barnes wrote:


    Time to brush up your French and head to West Africa. Ouagadougou is the site of a major film festival that draws tourists from Hollywood as well as Europe. Gotta admit that I was surprised by Sierra Leone.

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Krung Thep wrote:

    Tourists aren’t the only people who upload photos to sites. Anyone who wants others to look at their photos can do it. Calling them ‘tourists’ biases the findings and the map.

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  8. gaddeswarup wrote:

    There have been a lot of Indian students and other foreign students in Toledo . I visited friends there and uploaded photos at flickr. Perhaps students did it.

    Posted May 31, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  9. Jalyn Feth wrote:

    I lived in Ghana for four months and found the coast very beautiful with several important historical sights (Cape Coast area). It’s a high tourism area that is relatively easy to access by Ghanians and other neighboring West African countries.

    Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  10. Vivek wrote:

    Well, there’s (probably multiple) selection bias – that particular website, accuracy of photo geo-tagging, people with access to the internet, and digital cameras.

    If accurate though, the map makes me think that it’s for Bangladesh to change its tourist slogan, “Come before the tourists do!”

    Posted June 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  11. Diane Bennett wrote:

    Could the data also be biased by the culture (or subculture) it was marketed to? Could a lack of reliable internet access across Africa be at fault (photos can take a long time to upload with a poor connection)? This site promotes itself as geared to location photos (architecture and location shots), so the upcoming World Cup would not likely influence the data, yet I’m sure many will photograph “touristic” scenes around World Cup events. Also, photos of family and friends may not be tagged to be “touristy” and therefore significant in the way this study is counting them, yet may be more significant in African cultures.

    It seems the only conclusion I can reach from this study is that few Africans participated in this survey – maybe they were doing things that were more important to them!

    Posted June 2, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  12. Ashley wrote:

    Bangladesh is also seems like an unusually popular tourist destination… Dhaka is almost as big and bright (yellow) as the neighbouring Himalayas! Having lived there for a few years, I am pretty confident those photos aren’t all from tourists…!

    Posted June 2, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  13. Karen Grepin wrote:

    As someone who got engaged while on a vacation in a Dogon village in Mali I am much less surprised. The French – in particular – are relatively numerous in this part of the World, especially from Bamako up to Timbuktu (including sites such as Djenne and Mopti) along the Niger.

    I have also lived in Ouagadougou and while most of the time there is little reason for tourists to come, the film festival is a big deal.

    Posted June 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  14. Duncan wrote:

    Couldn’t this be a proxy for camera ownership as much as tourism? Depends how people are using the site.

    Posted June 3, 2010 at 1:41 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Tweets that mention Touristiness -- on May 31, 2010 at 11:26 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William Easterly, Ingrid Kopp, Timothy Hughes, Ian Hopkinson, lauraderksen and others. lauraderksen said: Hmm… Papua New Guinea sounds nice RT @bill_easterly Another cool map: global variations in Touristiness […]

  2. […] Touristiness | Aid Watch (tags: maps mapping visualization tourism infographics) […]

  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

    "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking." - H.L. Mencken

  • Archives