Methodology and Sources

ALL DATA IN THE Top 100 Countries index is taken from reputable and publicly available international sources. We have tried to ensure that the ratings are fully researched and that they come from acknowledged authorities in the area.

The ratings use a number of different scales. To overcome anomalies, we have mathematically normalized each rating to a 0 to 100 scale. That means the lowest-rated country in each index has been given a value of zero and the highest a value of 100, with all other values ‘stretched’ to maintain their relativities. The final rating, out of 100, is an average of these ten normalized ratings.

No attempt has been made to weight any of the factors. Each carries as much importance as any other, and has the same bearing on the overall index. Any weighting system would be subjective. We have created an Excel spreadsheet, downloadable for free at our website, which will allow you to weight any of the individual factors and perform other calculations and comparisons if you wish to.

We do not attempt to rate intangibles like the quality of the food, the weather, the friendliness of the people, or similar things. The rating system should be regarded simply as a way of comparing countries by the ten factors we have used, and not as a definitive guide to where to visit and why – though the rationale is that it might make your decision easier, or at least more informed.

The main reason some countries have been excluded is because of too many gaps in their data. These are mostly very small or very poor countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But most of these countries are described in the text of the book, in the appropriate geographical section.

There are four countries we would have liked to rate, because they are worthwhile destinations. But unfortunately there was insufficient data:

  • Cuba: Frozen out by the USA and not a member of sufficient international organizations, so unrated in many global comparisons.
  • Fiji: the largest island nation in the Pacific but inexplicably left off many ratings.
  • Myanmar: a closed economy with very little data.
  • Taiwan: ignored by many rating systems so as not to offend China.

War-torn countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen) exclude themselves, as does the hermit kingdom of North Korea. And for some reason Belarus, sandwiched between Russia and Poland, does not have enough data to analyze (not that you would want to go there).

Below are descriptions of each of the ten factors we have rated and their sources.


SOURCE: UN World Tourism Organization database, a very handy list which measures the number of annual international visitors to each country. We use this as a rough indicator of how popular each country is. As a general rule, the more people that visit a country, the more reason there is to go.

Numbers are mostly from 2017, the most recent available from the UN. Some data – from 11 countries – is from 2016 or 2015. The most recent UN data for the United Arab Emirates is from 2012, so numbers here are from the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (Dubai and Abu Dhabi are combined).

Things to see and do

SOURCE: This rating is based on the number of entries for each country in Patricia Schultz’s bestselling ‘A Thousand Places to See Before You Die’. There are more than 1000 places and it is a little arbitrary. It also is very US-centric, but it is a reasonable indicator of the number of worthwhile sites or experiences in a country. It’s a good book, and well worth a read.

Because of its understandable concentration of the USA (it was written for American audiences), that country’s rating is reduced to 100 (down from the 190 US places mentioned in the book). That allows all other country’s ratings to be the same as their number of appearances in the book, with no rescaling.

There are many ties in the rankings, because many countries have the same number of attractions as each other. The 40 countries with no entries at all are all ranked 80th.

Tourism infrastructure

SOURCE: The World Economic Forum (WEF) annual Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (2017 edition) contains a series of detailed indexes that measure ‘the set of factors and policies that enable the sustainable development of the travel and tourism sector, which in turn, contributes to the development and competitiveness of a country’.

This excellent and free report looks at all aspects of global tourism. It is essential reading for anyone in the industry, and interesting to the general reader. The report has an overall index and 14 component indexes. One of them is Tourist Service Infra-structure, which is what we have based this factor on.

Value for money

SOURCE: This data is also is taken from the World Economic Forum’s annual Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (see above). It is based on the report’s Price Competitiveness Index.


SOURCE: The UNESCO World Heritage Convention. The number of World Heritage Properties in each country, as a rough guide to the significance of its cultural heritage on a global scale. These are often good reason for visiting a country.

Safety and security

SOURCE: Data from the 2017 Legatum Prosperity Index, which rates all countries by nine different factors that contribute to their overall prosperity and well-being. We have used the ‘Safety and Security’ component, which is based on ‘national security and personal safety’.


SOURCE: This date is also taken from the 2017 Legatum Prosperity Index, (see above). We have used the ‘Health’ component, which is based on a country’s ‘basic mental and physical health, health infrastructure, and the availability of preventative care’.

There is no available measure of how good a country’s medical system is dealing with travelers who fall sick or have an injury. But this measure is a rough idea of how good the healthcare system is.


SOURCE: The 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), an excellent report produced by Yale University’s Center for Environ-mental Law and Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network.

It is based on 24 performance indicators across ten categories covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality. Hong Kong was not separately listed and is assigned the same rating as China.


SOURCE: The 2017 nCorruption Perception Index, published by Transparency International, a global anti-corruption NGO. It is based on the ‘perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople’.


SOURCE: The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, a ‘broad measure of human freedom and the absence of coercive con-straint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom’.

Extra metrics

WE HAVE INCLUDED in our analysis couple of other key measures: A county’s total population (in millions) and land area (in square kilometers, a more often used measure than square miles). From this we calculate population density (people per square kilometer six), which tells us how crowded it is.

We have also calculated annual visitor numbers per capita, a reasonable indication of how tourist-infested a country is. The higher the number, the more you will notice other visitors.

These extra metrics are included in our analysis of each country but are not used in determining the ratings in the Top 100 Countries index.