Stereotyping is a lazy pursuit, of course. If there is a kernel of truth to a cliché, it is swiftly magnified by confirmation bias. Every brash tourist from across the pond gets added to the “ugly American” side of one's ledger; every unassuming one is swiftly forgotten. And stereotyping, by its nature, means shoehorning very different types of tourists together. Brits’ poor reputation is well-deserved in the fleshpots of the Mediterranean. But they are a pretty benign bunch in much of the rest of the world.
Indeed, they are becoming less likely to get into trouble. According to the government’s latest British Behaviour Abroad Report, released on July 17th, over the past five years the number of UK residents requiring consular assistance has dropped markedly, from 19,387 in 2008/2009 to 17,517 in 2013/2014. Drug arrests fell from 994 to 708 over the same period. Even in Spain, the spiritual home of the loutish British holidaymaker, the total number of arrests has fallen by 41%, though there was also a 31% drop in British visitors to the country.
(As a slightly odd aside, according to the report Britons are proportionally much more likely to die in the Philippines than any other country. This is apparently because it is so popular with the elderly.)
Yet this isn’t the perception. There has recently been a spate of documentaries following the drunken exploits of the country’s youth in places such as Magaluf and Ayia Napa. It is all terribly seedy, and mayors of various Mediterranean resorts have felt compelled to act. Each evening, on television screens, a familiar pattern unfolds: yobs get tarted up, tanked up, have a punch up and then throw up (possibly getting knocked up along the way). Repeat, ad nauseam, for 14 nights.
Which brings us back to confirmation bias. Away from a few Cypriot and Spanish beaches, the British youth, like their counterparts in many countries, are becoming more staid. As our recent briefing on the subject found, they are becoming more polite, less violent, more abstemious and less sexually adventurous—characteristics that seem to be borne out in the government report. It is just that very few people seem to have noticed.
Stereotypes linger. Warren Buffett’s adage that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” seems to work in reverse for tourists. Which is bad news for all those debonair Americans, laid back Germans and quite unspeakable Canadians. It will, sadly, be some time before their work is recognised and the perception of their countries changed.