Locals gather on an overcrowded beach in Nha Trang, Vietnam, where "overdevelopment without a watchful eye" has plummeted the region to the bottom of this year's "Destinations Rated" scorecard, an annual ratings list compiled by the National Geographic Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations.
As in previous years, the panel based its decisions on six criteria: environmental and ecological quality, social and cultural integrity, condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites, aesthetic appeal, quality of tourism management, and outlook for the future. (Read more about the survey method.) The results appear in the November/December 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. (Both National Geographic News and Traveler are part of the National Geographic Society.)
In Nha Trang, the resort town is "fast becoming ruined by rampant commercial development," one anonymous panelist noted. "The once nice beaches are packed with hotels and bars. I would not return."
Photograph by Michael S. Yamashita, National Geographic
Mass tourism has engulfed much of Alicante, a historic stretch of Spain's eastern coast (pictured in 2005), according to the 2010 "Destinations Rated" scorecard.
"Tourism has developed so much that neither natural nor cultural quality of the place is there anymore. Even food is standard, because it is only produced for mass tourism," a panelist wrote.
However, other panelists did find "pockets of social and cultural integrity [that] add to aesthetic appeal."
Photograph by Fernando Bustamante, AP
Lebanon's civil war between 1975 and 1990 hampered much of the country's coastal tourism and environmental efforts (pictured, a riding teacher exercises his horse on a Beirut beach).
"Decades of unsustainable practices will take decades to undo, but there are oases of calm and beauty," one panelist for the 2010 "Destinations Rated" scorecard noted.
Photograph by Ed Kashi, National Geographic
Grand Strand, South Carolina
With shores heavily paved over by golf courses, strip malls, water parks, and concrete high-rises, South Carolina's Grand Strand (including Myrtle Beach, pictured in a file photo) is a "tourism disaster," one 2010 "Destinations Rated" panelist said.
"However, the region around Myrtle Beach has lovely state parks, beach areas, and some small villages. If I were to ever be coaxed back to the region, that is where I would spend all of my time," the expert wrote.
Photograph by Mark and Audrey Gibson, Photolibrary
With a reputation for sun-and-sand hedonism, Goa (pictured in 1985) often attracts visitors uninterested in the Indian region's natural and cultural heritage, according to the 2010 "Destinations Rated" scorecard.
The former Portuguese colony has been overpowered by "uncontrolled tourism development with no regard for the local culture or environment," a panelist said.
"The hotels could be anywhere in the world, and [they] cater to European charter tourism focused on cheap, all-inclusive resorts."
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic
Sharm el Sheikh Area, Egypt
Overhyped and hyper-developed, the tourism industry in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt (pictured in 2007), has gradually wreaked havoc on local ecosystems and has done little to educate visitors about the region's Bedouin heritage, according to the 2010 "Destinations Rated" scorecard.
The region "has become a prime tourist destination at the cost of traditional cultural values," a panelist noted.
"Local people may earn money from tourism, but they have had to change their traditional way of life in order to do so."
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic
Cambodia's premier coastal resort, Sihanoukville "has some serious issues to address in terms of sustainability," including corruption among development decision-makers, poor waste management, and "a low aesthetic of the built environment," panelists said.
For instance, tourism has given many local people jobs, but there appears to have been little local community engagement in sustainable-tourism planning, experts wrote in the 2010 "Destinations Rated" scorecard.
Likewise, "political and military elites have secured most prime beachfront land [and] tourism development has not incorporated traditional Cambodian architectural styles."
Photograph by Kris LeBoutillier, National Geographic
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai's heavy development is represented in a 2008 picture of houses built on one of the city's artificial archipelagos.
Though the city is "exciting and very modern in a theme park kind of way ... its natural environment is virtually invisible," one 2010 "Destinations Rated" panelist pointed out.
"Tourists find few opportunities for interaction with local residents. Other problems relate to water supply and quality, the use of immigrant labor, and a lack of cultural content in the resort product."
Photograph by Alexander Heilner
North Shore, New Jersey
A much-loved stretch of New Jersey, North Shore suffers from overcrowding (pictured, sunbathers pack Ortley Beach). This trait led one 2010 "Destinations Rated" panelist to say: "This is where family-driven heaven meets mass-tourism hell."
Even so, "to ignore the unique character of individual communities along this coast seems willfully ignorant," another scorecard panelist noted. For instance, some towns still "retain considerable charm," such as Spring Lake, Ocean Grove, and Avon-by-the-Sea.
Photograph by Amy Toensing, National Geographic
Gulf Coast, Mississippi
A man walks a tarball-littered beach in Biloxi, Mississippi, in June 2010.
The Gulf oil spill is the latest insult to the popular coast, which has endured pummeling from Hurricanes Camille and Katrina as well as heavy development following the legalization of casino gambling in the 1990s, according to the 2010 "Destinations Rated" scorecard.
"Before Katrina you had to seek the real stories of the coast out on the back roads, behind the cookie-cutter hotels and new casinos," one panelist said.
"After the hurricane these historic places were almost wiped from the face of the Earth. The oil spill is the final trial for the region."
Photograph by Tim Isbell, Sun Herald/AP
Gulf Coast, Louisiana
Workers clean up oil from the Gulf spill in Louisiana's Barataria Bay in summer 2010. The state's oil-soaked Gulf Coast is the first place to register near "catastrophic" on any "Destinations Rated" scorecard, with a low score of 24 out of a possible 100.
But "environmental issues have been wreaking havoc for decades," one panelist said.
"Channels dug to provide access for oil rigs and equipment have been killing off healthy wetlands, allowing salt water to infiltrate and kill off the vegetation. This slow, sure death of the precious wetlands had been underway long before the disastrous oil rig explosion."