Destinations React to Traveler Magazine's Scorecard


By Angela Burnford
for National Geographic Traveler
July 9, 2004
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 href=""
target="_new">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 effect—convincing 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."

Taking Stock

In Phuket, Thailand, for instance, several tourism leaders agreed with Phuket's low score—for environmental problems, cultural degradation, and tourism mismanagement—and 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.

MacDonald knows that potential environmental problems—such as contentious plans for shoreline gas and oil exploration—could jeopardize the island's rank. Speaking to Canadian Press, Tourtellot agreed, warning, "You have a lot to lose."

And prompted by a middling score, Costa Rica's Tico Times described the conflict between perceptions of the country as an ecotourism destination and the realities of mass tourism and deforestation, reflected in comments by scorecard panelists.

While noting conservation organizations' efforts to improve sustainability practices in Costa Rica, the article quoted William Rodriguez, president of the National Tourism Association. Rodriguez acknowledged the presence of "the kind of tourism that could be called generic—big hotels, sun, and beaches." He added that protection of the ecosystem remains essential to Costa Rica's appeal.

Panelists Comments Released

The "Destination Scorecard" ratings were based on a survey of some 200 experts in fields such as urban planning, sustainable tourism, anthropology, and geography.

Some expert comments were blunt appraisals: "Amazing site within terrible surroundings," was one summation of Italy's Pompeii. But panelists could be enthusiastic, as well. One called the colonial city of Guanajuato, Mexico, "an undiscovered gem." Comments were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality.

In the March article, Traveler included only a few of the experts' comments. Now sample quotes for all 115 destinations have been released, including these noteworthy remarks:

Comments on High Scorers

• Torres del Paine, Chile: "It's a remarkable site. The trail system is low impact, the transportation of food and employees is by animal, there's little environmental pollution. It is getting overcrowded, and measures need to be taken to mitigate any problems, but overall a sensational area."

• Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles: "It has taken a generation, but this is a good example of how the enlightened self-interests of the local people can be tapped so they are partners in maintaining environmental and ecological quality."

• Alpine regions, Switzerland: "For such a densely populated nation, Switzerland's innate awareness of aesthetics and land husbandry make for a comfortable proximity of towns and wild/open space."

Comments on Medium Scorers

• Salvador (Bahia) historic center, Brazil: "The old buildings on the main street of Pelourinho are well kept, but are run down elsewhere in the old town. Local restaurants, shops and hotels benefit from tourists. African/Brazilian culture has been maintained although outside influences are evident."

• Lake Tahoe, United States: "Amazing scenery, recreational heaven, but development and crowding are affecting the destination."

• Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt: "Another very special area that needs much improved visitor interpretation. Must set carrying capacity or limits of acceptable change."

Comments on Low Scorers

• Aruba: "Inappropriate coastal development and misuse of the scarce water resources are the largest challenges to sustainability."

• French Riviera: "Lost most of its charms due to overbuilding—quality management of public space is insufficient."

•Algarve, Portugal: "Developments aimed at capitalizing mass market tourism have destroyed the natural environment."

See all comments.

Download a two-page summary (PDF version) of scores and survey methedology.

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