The tension between residents culture and tourists is growing around the globe, with residents often being blame for acting inappropriately or disturbing locals. Protests against tourists have held in Hong Kong, Venice, and Barcelona.

Tourists in Hong Kong are accuse of being inconsiderate, noisy, inconsiderate, urinating publicly, purchasing baby milk powder and not adhering to local customs. Particularly Chinese tourists are subject to harsh criticism in Hong Kong and Thailand. British tourists in Spain are often blame when they behave badly.

Tourists’ ethics are not often studied and there are many unanswered questions. It is not clear whether tourists have different moral beliefs than the locals, if people from different parts are incline to have morally questionable activities on holiday than those who live there.

What Culture We Did

A recently published study suggests that there could be differences in the ethical judgments of tourists from different areas and residents living in Hong Kong.

We conducted a survey among tourists from mainland China, Western tourists, and residents of Hong Kong. The goal was to determine how morally acceptable each scenario was.

These scenarios included: counterfeiting products, disorderly behavior in public due to alcoholism, jumping queues and lying about the age of children (to receive discounts), and using prostitutes’ services.

To find out how accepting these scenarios were, we used a Multidimensional Ethics Scale. This scale is widely used to analyze ethical judgments. It uses multiple normative ethics theories.

Then, we asked respondents if they would be willing to take part in these activities at their home or on vacation.

Fish From Water Culture

For ethical decision-making, the case of tourist behavior is particularly interesting. We may feel pressured to behave in certain ways at home due to social pressures. Friends, family members and colleagues may judge us. We may feel judged by our family, friends or colleagues. Your actions could have lasting consequences.

These pressures disappear when we travel to foreign countries, where no one knows us or where we don’t stay long. Tourism can be seen as an indulgent and egoistic activity.

That’s At Least The Theory

Respondents found that engaging in prostitution and jumping into queues was unacceptable, while buying counterfeit products was acceptable.

It was surprising to see two seemingly different activities, such as engaging in prostitution and jumping queues, being rated the same. It could be that many people have experienced queue jumping and can recall the negative consequences (a few extra minutes).

People feel that jumping in the queues is not fair or morally right. It also violates established social norms.

The case of prostitution can be explained by Immanuel Kant’s deontology. Prostitution is a way to reduce a person’s worth as an instrument to achieve sexual climaxes with another person. Prostitution is against the principle that every person should be treated as an end in itself, not as a means to achieving one’s goals.

It is interesting to note that while selling counterfeit products in many countries, including Hong Kong was illegal, purchasing them was considered acceptable. Purchase of counterfeit products has positive effects for both the buyers (lower price) and the sellers (profit).

Because it is common in Hong Kong, it appears to be acceptable. It is unlikely that those who buy counterfeit goods will feel guilty about losing profits from luxury brands.

Culture Influences

Our findings support the notion that morality can vary from culture to culture. There are differences in the experiences of the Hong Kong residents and visitors.

Contrary to Western tourists, mainland Chinese tourists believe it is more acceptable to buy counterfeit products in Hong Kong, jump through queues, and lie about the age of a child to obtain discounts. Western tourists find it acceptable to hire the services of a prostitute.

Both think that public drunkenness and misbehaviour is more acceptable in Hong Kong than it is in the rest of the world. In general, Hong Kongers are more morally strict than the tourists.

Except for drunken misbehaviour, western tourists were more likely than their counterparts at home to take part in all scenarios while on holiday. Hong Kong residents are more likely to participate in all holiday activities than they are at home.

Contrary to popular belief, mainland Chinese tourists are more inclined to engage in most of these scenarios at home than they are on holiday, with the exception of engaging in the services of prostitutes. Chinese tourists seem to be aware of the negative publicity they’ve been receiving recently, particularly in Hong Kong.

Since 2015, the Chinese government has started to blacklist uncivilized tourists and distributed educational information. It aims to minimize inappropriate behaviour overseas.

Chinese tourists more likely to be ethical to avoid being blacklist or to ensure their safety.

Moral Of The Story

The culture and environment we grow up in will influence what we believe to be ethical. We do what is acceptable to those we know and the environment in which we live.

Individual principles, inborn morality, and perceptions of fairness can all be more important guides than others for what is morally acceptable. However, appealing to the consequences and the possibility of punishment is more likely to discourage people from engaging morally questionable activities.

It seems plausible that holiday-goers are more likely not to behave. Well than they are at home if there are no social pressures. However, the Chinese tourist case shows that this is not always true.

For reducing unethical behaviour, both punishing and educating tourists are possible strategies.