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January 26, 2007

Yet Another Bogus Study Being Trumpeted By The Anti-American Media

You may have heard recently that the United States is the world's unfriendliest nation for international travellers. I'm calling bullshit on this bogus study.

The United States is the world's most unfriendly country for international travellers, a survey suggests.

The global survey showed the US was ranked "the worst" because of rude immigration officials and long delays in processing visas.

More than half of the travellers surveyed said US immigration officials were rude and two-thirds said they feared they would be detained on arriving in the US for a simple mistake in their paper work or for saying the wrong thing to an immigration official.

Twice the percentage of travellers nominated the US as unfriendly, compared with the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.

The survey, of 2,011 international travellers in 16 countries, was conducted by the polling firm RT Strategies for the Discover America Partnership, a business-backed group launched in September to promote travel to the US and improve the country's image abroad.

"The entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is keeping foreign visitors away," said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership.

"The survey shows there is more fear of our immigration officials than of terrorism or crime."

What is the premise of the survey's results? That travellers to the United States encounter more unpleasantness than in any other country in the world.

Complete bullshit.

Just look at the U.S. State Department's travel advisory for Saudi Arabia, just to pull one example of a worse country from the many that come to mind.

American citizens who choose to visit or remain in Saudi Arabia despite this Travel Warning are strongly urged to avoid staying in hotels or housing compounds that do not apply stringent security measures including, but not limited to, the presence of an armed guard force . . .
Not just a security guard, but an armed guard force!
. . . inspection of all vehicles, and a hardened security perimeter to prevent unauthorized vehicles from approaching the facility. American citizens are further advised to exercise caution and maintain good situational awareness when visiting commercial establishments frequented by Westerners or in primarily Western environments. Keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel, and ensure that travel documents and visas are valid. American citizens are also advised to exercise caution while driving, entering or exiting vehicles.
And that's not just paranoid advice from a xenophobic American agency. If you want to talk about unfriendly to tourists, here's some advice from Saudi Arabia's own government website:
Important Instructions:

If a woman is arriving in the Kingdom alone, the sponsor or her husband must receive her at the airport.

Every woman must have confirmed accommodation for the duration of her stay in the Kingdom.

A woman is not allowed to drive a car and can therefore travel by car only if she is accompanied by her husband, a male relative, or a driver.

All visitors to the Kingdom must have a return ticket.

Here's more anecdotal info about the hassles one may encounter in the Saudi Kingdom, from the Lonely Planet's website:
There are NO visitor visas. It's not even possible to have a Saudi sponsor apply for the visa on my behalf. Visitors can ONLY visit to work, or for a religious visit.

Speaking of religious visits, people who do this who are muslims, can ONLY visit Mecca and Medina, and that's it. Travel to other Saudi cities is not allowed.
Anon, Canada (Mar 03)

One thing Anon from Canada didn't mention is that only those of the Islamic faith are allowed to set foot in Mecca or Medina. The rest of us are unclean or something, I guess. Not that I have any desire to get trampled to death in their crappy holy city anyway.

Back to the Lonely Planet:

WOMEN: We wear the abeyya so we get left alone. But even this doesn't work. We get stared at constantly and sometimes things are said. More so now after the September 11 disaster. I have never been barred from any establishment or had to leave because of prayer. Stealing wallets or purses out of expats handbags or backpacks as they walk around is common. We are not allowed to use the public transport.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Sure, film and cameras are everywhere. But, go and try to do a shoot around Jeddah. You will stop traffic, draw untold attention to yourself and if you are really lucky, the police will stop you and then the Matawwa [Saudi religious police] maybe will turn up which is what happened to me. You cannot take photos of people, any Palace or any government building. Now, as all three are everywhere, photography is difficult and not a delight.

. . .

MATAWWA: If they are around, they will ask all women to cover their hair and generally have the police with them, so this is enforced. I have friends who did not have their scarf with them one night in Balad and the Matawwa made them go to a shop, buy one and put it on while they waited outside until the girls did. Jeddah is not as strict as Riyadh.
Alanna Lee, Saudi Arabia (Jan 02)

It gets worse. Here's what the British Embassy in Riyadh says about travel to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced.

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam, or proselytising, is not permitted.

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are also enforced rigorously. You should respect them fully.

Homosexual behaviour and adultery are illegal and can carry the death penalty.

The penalties for the possession of, or trade in, alcohol are severe. Both result in prison sentences. The punishment for importing drugs includes the death penalty. You should not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol: the consequences could be serious. You should carry with you a doctor’s prescription for any medication you have with you. The importation of pork products is also forbidden.

While the Saudi authorities say they accept the private practice of religious other than Islam, religious books (apart from the Qu’ran) and artefacts imported for personal use may be confiscated. Also, importing larger quantities can carry severe penalties as it will be viewed that it is your intention to convert (proselytise) others.

The possession of pornographic material, or of illustrations of scantily dressed people, especially women, is prohibited.

The Saudi legal system differs in many ways from the UK. Suspects can be held without charge and those detained have in the past not been allowed legal representation. The Saudi authorities have detained witnesses and victims of crimes. If you require consular assistance our staff will seek to visit you as soon as they are aware of the case. However, in some instances they have not been permitted to do so immediately or have had limits applied to access once granted. We have raised our concern about reports of mistreatment of some suspects during their detention.

Photography of government buildings, military installations and palaces is not allowed. You should avoid photographing local people. It is illegal for women to drive.

Anyone involved in a commercial dispute with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country pending resolution of the dispute.

Passports are often retained by sponsors or government bodies for official purposes. You should carry a photocopy of your passport. Make sure you have included in your passport details of those who should be contacted in an emergency.

It is illegal to hold two passports in Saudi Arabia: second passports will be confiscated by the immigration authorities if they are discovered.

. . .

On occasion, Saudi visas have been refused when passports have reflected travel to Israel or indicated an Israeli birthplace.

Women visitors and residents are required to be met by their sponsor upon arrival. Women travelling alone, who are not met by sponsors, have experienced delays before being allowed to enter the country or to continue on other flights.

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country. . . .

Foreign women married to Saudi nationals require permission from their husbands for themselves and their children to leave Saudi Arabia.

Bunch of backwards-ass dickwads. On any type of objective scale you'd want to use, Saudi Arabia has to be among the world's most unfriendly places for international travellers. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather deal with a rude customs guy than risk getting my head chopped off because I was wearing a sleeveless tee.

So how did the Discover America Partnership get it so wrong, when they decided that the United States is the most unfriendly nation for tourism? Simple, they didn't survey any visitors to Saudi Arabia.

Here's the list of Middle Eastern countries their survey compared to the United States:

1. United Arab Emirates
That's right, they only included one Middle Eastern country in their study. So when the above linked article claims "Twice the percentage of travellers nominated the US as unfriendly, compared with the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent," that's a bit misleading. Besides the fact that the U.A.E. might be the most westernized of any Middle Eastern nation besides Israel, how many respondents traveled there, compared with the the United States? Poor methodology, but you wouldn't know it from reading the headlines.

Posted by annika, Jan. 26, 2007 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


Ha -- this "survey" must be an implicit admission that no one in his or her right mind would ever WANT to travel to Saudi Arabia. Jebus. What a disgusting country.

If they're basing this on customs then they're just not going to find a place anyone LIKES. International travel just sucks, period, ever since 9/11. I waited in the customs line almost two hours when I visited London a year and a half ago, and then the customs guy in London hassled me because I was traveling alone. Too bad I didn't have my male escort with me...

On the other hand, getting back into the States was pie. Quick and easy. Even more surprisingly, on a recent trip to Mexico -- one on which I purchased a hefty haul of high-quality Mexican booze -- I breezed right through US customs and they didn't even levy a duty on what I bought (even though they probably could've). They were smiley and nice. Maybe partly because I'm a citizen -- but so far, from MY experience, US beats the other countries I've visited. Granted, I've never dealt with immigration (and I wouldn't think anyone would have to if they were just a short-term visitor... if you're living here for six months I'm not counting that as "international travel." That's a change in your living situation).

Now, airport security/TSA and their incompetent staff, that's another issue entirely...

Posted by: The Law Fairy on Jan. 26, 2007

even if we tried real hard we could never be as unfriendly as the French or most of the Eurotards for that matter.
Utter crap.

Posted by: kyle8 on Jan. 27, 2007

LF, I'm marking my calendar. FWIW, I know a guy who was beaten by the Matawwa because he LOOKED like a homosexual. Heh, he was in the Air Force, they were probably right.

Posted by: Casca on Jan. 27, 2007

"The true measure of a country's greatness is determined by how many people are trying to get in" - Tony Blair

I don't hear about France or Saudi Arabia being swamped with immigrants.

Posted by: Joatmoaf on Jan. 28, 2007

Nice job researching, Annika.

Posted by: Mark on Jan. 30, 2007