Travel, whether for business or pleasure, is an integral part of modern life and a major contributor to the economies of many countries. Some of the most popular countries to visit are France, Spain, and the United States. Bangkok, Thailand, is the most-visited city globally, with about 22 million visitors a year. Paris, France, is the second-most visited city globally, with over 17.4 international visitors annually.
Other destinations are less popular. Numerous possible reasons exist for why one country might be less popular than another. For example, many island countries in the Pacific are notably distant, which may make them quite expensive and/or time-consuming to reach. Other countries may be close, but also prohibitively expensive or lacking in appealing attractions. Some may have underdeveloped tourism industries, which can make visits logistically challenging. Some are simply too small to host vast numbers of tourists. Finally, some countries may be perceived (correctly or incorrectly) as dangerous or difficult to visit (such as North Korea), or may be genuinely dangerous due to political instability or outright war (such as Somalia).
The number of visitors a country receives is not necessarily indicative of a lesser experience. With the understandable exception of countries that are legitimately dangerous, seldom-visited countries are frequently considered just as beautiful, less crowded, more unspoiled, and oftentimes cheaper than more popular tourist destinations.
|Rank||Country/Territory||Visitors in 2019|
|8||Sao Tome and Principe*||34,900|
**Note: Due to the global COVID-19 shutdown, 2020 tourism data is notably atypical. As such, data from 2019, which was much more representative of a typical year, is displayed. Totals for countries marked with * include overnight visitors only and exclude daytime-only visitors such as cruise-ship passengers.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the remote Pacific island country Tuvalu is the least-visited country globally. This tiny island nation of just 12,000 people welcomed only about 3,700 visitors in 2019. It is worth noting, however, that tourism is growing rapidly in Tuvalu, which welcomed only 1,100 visitors in 2012.
Tourism in Tuvalu is largely centered around the country's crystal-blue waters and palm-tree-lined beaches. Diving and snorkeling are particularly popular attractions thanks to a 33km² (12.74mi²) conservation area dense with coral reefs, lagoons, and ocean habitats (including sea turtles). Relaxing walks and picnics on the beach are also popular, as are yachting; motorscooter tours; and trips to the local bakery, the national library, and various WWII-era sites.
Fiji Airways flies in and out of Tuvalu's lone international airport every Tuesday and Thursday—but service can be inconsistent, so visitors are advised to prepare for the possibility that their arrival or departure could be delayed for a few extra days. This concern is duplicated in many of the Pacific islands, which are quite remote and whose infrastructure is less developed.
Tuvalu is one of 22 Pacific island nations that are most vulnerable to climate change. Children in Tuvalu are taught in school that they may be the last generation to grow up on the island before it is submerged by the ocean due to sea level rise.
The Marshall Islands are the second-least visited country, welcoming just over 6,000 visitors in 2019. These volcanic islands are located in the Pacific between the Philippines and Hawaii and boast pure, white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and diverse marine life and flora (including more than 160 species of coral). The Marshalls are deep in WWII history, having first served as a Japanese base and then become the site of much nuclear testing by the U.S. military. Also, like Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands are in danger of being engulfed by rising ocean waters driven by climate change.
Located in the South Pacific, Niue is regarded as one of the world's smallest nations. The tiny island—actually a raised coral atoll—sees about 10,000 visitors a year. One Niue tourist site highlights what the island "does not have": crowds, long lines, traffic lights, or a frantic pace of life. Niue's available tourist activities include swimming, snorkeling and diving, kayaking, 4WD ATV tours, or simply hiking through terrain ranging from beaches to rainforests, plantations, or a vanilla farm. Travelers should be aware that there's only one flight to and from Niue per week.
Correctly pronounced "kiri-bas," this Pacific island chain is the only country in the world to touch all four hemispheres. Popular activities here include fishing, surfing, visiting the country's many World War II-era attractions, diving and snorkeling in the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area (the world’s largest marine protected area), bird watching, or simply exploring the country's 33 islands, islets, and atolls. Reflecting the unspoiled, but also less-developed nature of the country, the Kiribati National Tourism Office declares, "Kiribati is for travelers—those who have a passion for exploring and discovering, people who like an adventure off the tourist trail to places where few have been before, and people who want to understand a country—not just see it."
Situated between the Marshall Islands and Palau, Micronesia is yet another Pacific island country rife with WWII relics, beaches, fishing, surfing, snorkeling and diving amid both world-class coral reefs and WWII shipwrecks, and hiking trails awash with lush, rugged natural beauty. the more urban areas of Micronesia are also known for their vibrant nightlife.
The first sparsely visited country to be located somewhere other than the Pacific, Montserrat is an island nation positioned in the Caribbean, directly east of Central America. Montserrat was once a popular destination—however, a volcanic eruption in 1995 devastated a large portion of the island, including its capital city, Plymouth. Subsequently, roughly 2/3 of the island's population emigrated to other countries, most notably the UK. Montserrat's volcano remains active (though it has been mostly dormant since 2010), and much of the island's southern region is still taken up by an off-limits exclusion zone.
Although multiple hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed Montserrat's rebuilding efforts, construction of a new capital city, as well as the recovery of the country as a whole, are underway. While most visitors currently take day trips to the island (particularly the volcano observatory), tourism is slowly ramping up again thanks to attractions including peaceful beaches, lush forest hiking complete with petroglyphs, and tours of the upper remains of Plymouth, whose lower floors are now largely buried under 30+ feet of ash and mud.
Tuvalu only hosted 3,700 visitors in 2019, which makes it the country that was the least visited.
North Korea has a reputation for being dangerous and difficult to visit, but it is not the country that is the least visited. That title goes to the country of Tuvalu.