The present study investigates the impact of freedom (i.e. the effects of political rights and civil liberties) on tourist arrivals for the eight countries with the highest tourist arrivals in 2016 (France, the United States, Spain, China, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Mexico), using annual data from 1998 to 2016, through advanced panel data methods. Notably, the key strengths of this study are as follows: (i) it examines the impact of institutional quality on international tourism demand for the most visited countries and (ii) it employs advanced panel data techniques, which have been suggested in recent years. We first constituted a freedom index using political rights and civil liberties data. Second, we performed cross-sectional dependence (CD) tests to examine whether there existed CD in the panel data set. After detecting the presence of CD, we used panel unit root and cointegration tests, which are robust to CD to avoid problems from spurious regression. Finally, we estimated long-run parameters of the empirical model through a panel data estimator that is capable of presenting efficient and unbiased output in the presence of CD. Our empirical findings show that the level of freedom may play a role in explaining the volume of international tourist arrivals. Theoretical and policy implications are discussed in the study, particularly with respect to the importance of rights and freedom in the context of international inbound tourist arrivals.