Top vacation spots are now threatening bad tourists with jail time

Bali is one of budget-friendly international destinations to visit.

Bali is one of budget-friendly international destinations to visit.

Published Aug 16, 2023


By Lebawit Lily Girma

A group of German guests toppled a 150-year-old statue at a villa in northern Italy. A Danish woman exposed herself while riding a motorbike in Bali. A Polish man climbed a closed, sacred temple at Chichén Itzá in Mexico. Americans harassed bears at Yellowstone National Park.

These are just some of the latest examples of tourists behaving badly.

Tourists always get a bad rap, but governments are pushing back more forcefully than ever on unruly visitors, deploying a range of tactics to control misbehaviour while putting future tourists on notice.

In the past few months, a number of countries have passed laws with punishments such as hefty fines and even jail time.

In Bali, locals have a new hotline they can use to snitch on visitors, and the country has deported more tourists so far this year than it did all for all of 2022.

The World's Most Amazing Vacation Rentals: Season 1. Episode 1 “Best of Bali”. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

"The old city of Dubrovnik is not a discothèque," says Jelka Tepšić, deputy mayor of the historic Croatian city. People actually live there, she says. "They want to have a good night's rest."

Tepšić says tourists need to be reminded that they're in a UNESCO World Heritage site and that certain behaviour is inappropriate: sitting around eating and drinking on the steps of historic buildings, zooming through pedestrian-only zones on a bike or scooter, walking around town in just a bathing suit. "This is not the beach," she says.

The city released a video in June to remind tourists of what they should and shouldn't do.

The video, Respect the City, is playing on cruise ships, on flights and at airports, part of a larger project that began in 2018 to clean up the city's image as overcrowded.

Then there's the dreaded noise: the click-click-click of a wheeled suitcase being dragged over the limestone streets by tourists who have a few hours to kill before they head to an airport.

"It's very, very noisy," Tepšić adds. "Dubrovnik has thousands of steps." Don't be surprised if you get stopped by police: They've been put in charge of telling visitors to correct course when they spot undesirable behaviour.

In Italy, tourists who stop their cars and clog the roads overlooking Portofino's downtown scenic bay will face fines up to 279 euros ($306).

A town ordinance passed in April prohibits people from obstructing traffic at its most popular spots between the Piazzetta and the Molo Umberto I pier from 6am to 6pm during the summer months through October.

Visitors can still stroll these areas and take all the selfies they want in front of the iconic square lined with brightly coloured façades.

"The goal is not to make the locality exclusive but to allow everyone to enjoy the beauty of Portofino," Mayor Matteo Viacava told local media.

Italy keeps ratcheting up legal penalties for bad behaviour, including fines of up to 60,000 euros and possible jail time for defacing the country's historic monuments, according to a bill that passed in April.

That follows numerous incidents involving climate activists as well as tourists scribbling on the walls of Rome's Colosseum.

Rome’s Colosseum. Picture: Supplied.

Some politicians say even fines and the threat of imprisonment aren't enough. In late July, yet another individual stepped into Rome's Trevi Fountain, climbed up one of the sculptures and dove into the water amid a crowd of cheering onlookers.

After that, a city councillor suggested closing off the fountain.

Bali is also taking a more punitive approach to tourist misconduct. As of August 6, the Indonesian island has deported 198 tourists, more than the total number for 2022, a Bali official told CNN Indonesia.

New task forces are working on cracking down on disrespectful tourist behaviour as well as visitors illegally overstaying their visas.

"Community participation is certainly very much needed in supervising and taking action against unruly tourists," one of the task force's announcement reads, referring to the dedicated local hotline to report bad foreign tourist behaviour.

Then there are the rules around behaviour issued in June, among them: No entering holy places, unless to worship in modest clothing. No badmouthing, either directly or on social media.

Flower stalls float illuminated on a canal at the Bloemenmarktin Amsterdam. Pic: Bloomberg photo by Jasper Juinen

As for Amsterdam's battle to clean up its city center by removing undesirable behaviour, its most recent campaign video resembles a police reality TV episode, with images of smashed beer bottles in the street and male visitors being arrested against a backdrop of flashing blue and red lights.

"Coming to Amsterdam for a messy night? Stay away," the message reads. Or face fines, an arrest record and "fewer prospects," the warning continues.

The results of the campaign are expected in September, a spokesperson for the city told Bloomberg.