The March 2004 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine rated 115 destinations to reveal "which of the world's great destinations remain great and which may be in trouble." In response to numerous requests from around the world, Traveler has now posted a selection of comments on all 115 places made by the panelists on whom the ratings were based.
The article (download a PDF version) was called "Destination Scorecard," and it seems to be having the desired effectconvincing local leaders that stewardship of natural, historic, and cultural resources can go hand-in-hand with a vibrant tourism economy.
For example, rather than rejecting the article's report of environmental decline and a "spring-break-like atmosphere" in their city, certain Key West officials are nodding their heads in agreement and looking for solutions. In response to the city's ranking in the bottom third of the ratings, mayor Jimmy Weekley convened a panel to address tourism and natural resource management.
So could a low score actually be good news for a destination? "I've been impressed by the constructive responses to the survey from many of the low-scoring destinations," said Jonathan B. Tourtellot, National Geographic director of sustainable tourism and geotourism editor for National Geographic Traveler.
"If community leaders, businesses, and residents can team up to raise the score for their locale, that's good news indeed," he said. "We're talking about many of the greatest places on Earth, and sustaining them is essential. We want to support any destination seeking to improve its stewardship rank. We're looking for success stories."
In Phuket, Thailand, for instance, several tourism leaders agreed with Phuket's low scorefor environmental problems, cultural degradation, and tourism mismanagementand are speaking out about the need for greater environmental protection.
Quoted in a June 2, 2004, Phuket Gazette article, Panu Maswongsa, vice president of the Phuket Tourism Association, said, "We have to accept the reality. We should try to improve Phuket instead of making excuses."
In Chang Mai, the other Thai destination in the report, the provincial governor dismissed the city's low score, but the mayor agreed that Chang Mai has major problems. In response to the poor Thai showing, Bangkok's independent newspaper the Nation editorialized, "We are in a pit" and has launched a nine-part examination of the state of Thai tourism.
But it's not just the low-scorers who see room for improvement. The Scottish Highlands' beauty and feeling of authenticity landed the destination near the top of the list.
Yet Michael Foxley, vice-convener of the Highland Council, speaks of work still ahead. In an April article in the Glasgow Herald, Foxley cites the scorecard, pointing out, "Our real challenge is to ensure that we still have something of our indigenous Gaelic heritage worth saving in ten years' time."
Natural beauty and cultural integrity earned Canada's Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia second place on the scorecard. Yet in March the Canadian Press news service described both pride and caution on the part of Sandra MacDonald, head of the island's tourism association.
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