Glamorous TikToks and wanderlust-filled travel blogs can set high expectations for tourist destinations. Sometimes they can set the wrong expectations.
When we visit a city and it simply does not live up to the image we have created in our head it can be upsetting. For some, this feeling can cause very real physical and mental pain and discomfort, called Paris syndrome.
We wanted to find out which cities were the worst culprits in the world for not living up to tourists’ expectations. In our 2021 report, we discovered it was in fact the French capital itself, however, things have now changed.
This year we expanded our study and analyzed over 826,000 popular online review platform reviews, across 100 of the most visited cities in the world, to find out which city is most guilty of not meeting tourists’ expectations and creating the ultimate Paris syndrome environment.
- Tourists in Orlando, U.S are most likely to experience Paris syndrome as the city had the highest proportion of visitors complaining the city did not meet expectations.
- Budapest however came out as the city where travellers are most pleasantly surprised by their experience, the complete opposite of a Paris syndrome-inducing environment.
- Despite Paris not being the city most guilty of underwhelming tourists in 2022, reviews of the city’s attractions did have the second-highest percentage of mentions of ‘overrated’ and ‘scams’ in the world. Tourists landing at Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, therefore, are sometimes happy to take the train home.
- Budapest is considered the most ‘beautiful’ city while Rome has the most ‘must-see’ attractions according to tourists’ reviews.
- Orlando also had the highest percentage of reviews where tourists felt ‘ripped off’ as well as the most comments of ‘rude’ people.
What is Paris syndrome?
This very real psychological condition is sometimes experienced by first-time visitors to Paris, France, whose expectations of the city are so romanticised that they get overwhelmingly disappointed when they are faced with the reality.
The quaint and fairytale-like image of Paris, portrayed in movies and books doesn’t always match the reality of this busy city, and the realization can sometimes leave tourists in a state of utter shock. In the French newspaper, Libération, the former President of the Franco-Japanese Medical Association was quoted stating that news and tourism media are primarily responsible for creating the syndrome’s less-than-realistic image of Paris.
Symptoms of Paris syndrome vary, but hallucinations, anxiety, dizziness, acute delusions and sweating are among the most commonly reported.
2021 results of The Paris Syndrome Report
In 2021, our study found that Paris did in fact live up to the psychological condition’s name, as it was the most underwhelming city with the highest frequency of reviews, where expectations were not met, followed by Hong Kong.
For 2022, we wanted to grow this study further; including 80 more cities and over 700,000 more reviews to discover which cities are underwhelming, and capable of inducing Paris syndrome side effects. Taking this extra data, as well as reviews from people traveling post-pandemic, here’s how the results have changed.
Paris syndrome: Cities where reality did not meet expectations
According to the study, tourists are now much happier with their experience of Paris. With cities in Malaysia, America, and Indonesia now making up the top three underwhelming cities in the world.
Orlando, U.S. is the world’s most underwhelming city, where people are most likely to suffer from Paris syndrome, with almost 1 in 5 (19.52%) tourist reviews mentioning how disappointing and underwhelming their vacation experience was. Popular online review platform reviews in 2022 for the top attractions in Orlando frequently mention the crowds and increased prices, with both Universal and Disneyland increasing admission fees in 2022.
Second to America’s ‘Theme Park Capital’ is Jakarta, Indonesia’s current capital city (until 2024), followed by one of Thailand’s party hotspots, Pattaya.
The top ten most underwhelming tourist cities can be seen below:
|Rank||City||Country||Negative comments in reviews|
Cities that exceeded travellers’ expectations
On the opposite end of the scale, there were cities that exceeded expectations and tourists found themselves surprised at their enjoyment. This could be where tourists had low expectations to begin with, or the city exceeded their already high expectations.
Budapest, Hungary, was the city that exceeded tourists’ expectations the most, reversing the Paris syndrome effect, with 96.17% of the city’s reviews containing phrases of praise and pleasant surprise. Budapest’s top things to do primarily focus on exploring the city’s stunning architecture and meandering river.
The Belgian capital, Brussels, was found to be the second most surprising city which exceeded tourists’ expectations, followed by Zurich. Despite the analysis reviewing cities from around the world, the top three is made up of land-locked European cities, perhaps an indication that tourists have lower expectations for cities away from the beach.
Expectations of tourists arriving at Connolly Station are lower, then leaving: tourists are on average more satisfied with Dublin than they expect when they arrive.
Below are the top ten cities that exceeded tourists’ expectations, creating the true opposite of Paris syndrome:
|Rank||City||Country||Positive comments in reviews|
Words and phrases used to describe cities
In total we looked at 41 words and phrases (as well as inflections and misspellings) to establish the sentiment of tourists and how they felt about each city, and also how many times certain positive and negative phrases were used.
With Orlando being the city that is most guilty of creating a Paris syndrome environment, it’s unsurprising to find that the data shows it is also the world’s hotspot for disappointed tourists. Orlando accounted for 1 in 20 (4.6%) of all reviews globally in our analysis mentioning how ‘disappointed’ or ‘disappointing’ tourists found the experience, the most out of any city analyzed.
Orlando also had the highest number of mentions for how ‘terrible’ tourists felt their experience was (7.4%), with Berlin behind that (3.8%). Orlando also had the most mentions of how ‘rude’ (8.4%) people were just behind New York City (4.2%).
The city most guilty of being ‘overrated’ was Da Nang, Vietnam holding 3.2% of reviews mentioning the word, followed closely by Paris itself (3%) living up to the syndrome’s name.
However, when it came to reviews mentioning how ‘underwhelming’ tourists felt their trip was, Prague took the top spot having 3.9% of all reviews mentioning the word. Perhaps the Czech capital could be another contender for causing Paris syndrome.
When looking into words and phrases associated with being positively surprised by a city, we found that Penang, Malaysia was where tourists were the most ‘pleasantly surprised’, with 2.3% of global mentions of the phrase being used to review Penang tourist attractions.
Italy’s capital, Rome, took the top spot for having the most ‘must-see’ attractions (2.2%), as described by tourists, while Budapest’s attractions were described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘stunning’ the most out of all destinations analyzed.
Los Angeles is home to the most ‘outstanding’ reviews (2.93%), surpassing other California cities such as San Francisco or San Diego, while visitors to Dubai say how ‘amazing’ the attractions there are the most.
Scams and rip-off destinations
Our analysis also allowed us to see which destinations were angering tourists the most when it came to scams, poor value for money, and being ripped off.
Once again Orlando is top of the list, with the city holding onto 6.3% of the global reviews mentioning tourists being ripped off, followed by the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana (3.9%). Singapore however had the highest percentage (8.2%) of reviews where tourists discussed how bad they felt the value of attractions on offer was.
When it came to ‘scams’ however, Marrakesh, Morocco was the world’s capital for tourists feeling unhappy that they’ve been scammed. In fact, over one in ten (10.5%) of all reviews mentioning scams in our analysis came from Marrakesh, followed only by Paris (5.5%), perhaps another key reason the city has the namesake syndrome.
Paris syndrome in the world’s most visited cities
Below is the full list of the world’s most visited cities that fit the criteria for this analysis and how they performed when it came to creating a Paris syndrome environment. The ratio reflects the number of positive comments (such as a pleasant surprise) for every singular negative comment (such as feelings of being underwhelmed).
(Positive – Negative Comments)
|26||New York City||11.79|
|33||Ho Chi Minh City||12.52|
|47||Rio de Janeiro||14.09|
We collected 826,292 popular online review platform’s reviews from the ten most-reviewed tourist attractions in 100 cities around the world based on international visitor numbers from EuroMonitor’s Top 100 City Destinations report and Mastercard’s ‘Global Cities Index’.
Russian cities and Kyiv were removed due to the Ukraine crisis, and Mecca was discounted due to the fact that it is inaccessible to non-muslim travellers. Other cities were discounted if they had less than 1,000 instances of positive and negative comments from tourists. Data was collected on 10/11/22.
To analyze which cities are most overrated versus most underrated, we looked at the occurrence of a set list of keywords to determine the words that are most frequently used to describe a destination. We then worked out a ratio of how often words associated with “overrated” versus “underrated” were being used to rank the destinations.
- Euromonitor, ‘Top 100 City Destinations: 2019 Edition’ https://go.euromonitor.com/white-paper-travel-2019-100-cities.html
- Mastercard, ‘Global Destination Cities Index’ (https://newsroom.mastercard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/FINAL-Global-Destination-Cities-Index-Report.pdf)
- Libération, ‘Des Japonais Entre Mal Du Pays Et Mal De Paris’ (https://web.archive.org/web/20191219211711/https://next.liberation.fr/vous/2004/12/13/des-japonais-entre-mal-du-pays-et-mal-de-paris_502663)
- The Atlantic, ‘Paris Syndrome: A First-Class Problem for a First-Class Vacation’ (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/10/paris-syndrome-a-first-class-problem-for-a-first-class-vacation/246743/)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.