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Geotourism Scores 115 Top World Destinations



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(In 2006)...200 travel experts rated 115 of the worlds top destinations based on the 12 geotourism principles. While the list, the destinations and scores have most likely shifted since then, the information explaining the criteria and impact preservation has on a destinations long term profit, local well being and environmental stewardship is valuable.

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Geotourism Scores 115 Top World Destinations

  1. 1. 115 Places Rated Norway’s fjords, Tasmania, Vermont, and Tuscany look to be in relatively good shape. Not so for the Costa del Sol, Phuket, and Key West. In cases like Cape Cod, opinion is divided. That’s all according to an unusual new sur-vey, whose results yield what TRAVELER believes to be the world’s first Index of Destination Stewardship. Ever since travel began booming after World War II, development pressures, environmental problems, civil strife, cultural erosion, and, yes, mass tourism have increas-ingly challenged the integrity of destinations worldwide. “Unspoiled” is a description you hear less and less. Which great places have remained great by protecting themselves against these trends? Which have failed? To find out, TRAVELER worked with the National Geographic’s Sustainable Tourism Initiative and a graduate team from Leeds Metropolitan University in England to conduct a Authenticity 21st cen-tury style: An outboard outrigger ferries tour-ists across a Tahitian lagoon. Despite a name once synonymous with paradise, Tahiti made a poor score on the stew-ardship index due to overdevelopment. complex global survey of over 200 specialists in sustainable tourism and destination quality. We asked these experts to evaluate 115 of the world’s best known places based on six criteria that pertain to cultural, environmental, and aes-thetic integrity (“About the Survey,” page 67). The scores that follow, based on a 1-to-100 scale, reflect their opinions. For each destina-tion, symbols show which factors most influ-enced their judgments. No destination rated 90 or above (“unspoiled and likely to remain so”), but none fell into the “catastrophic” under-20 range either. Destinations in the best shape face relatively few threats or, significantly, have learned how to handle them. Those at the low end have lost much, but could perhaps recover. We expect that this index will generate a lot of discussion, even a few arguments. That’s fine, if it gets everyone, especially policymakers, to think more about wise stewardship of the places we love. The future of travel depends on it. 60 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER 61 PETER GUTTMAN/CORBIS Destination Scorecard Development, pollution, globalization, mass tourism—are the world’s great places still...great? TRAVELER introduces a new way to see how well your destination is coping with the 21st century. By Jonathan B. Tourtellot
  2. 2. rank score key factors Stewardship Index WILD Norwegian fjords 82 1 Cape Breton Island, Canada 78 2 South Island, New Zealand 78 2 Torres del Paine, Chile 78 2 Tasmania, Australia 77 3 Rocky Mountain parks, Canada 76 4 Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom 75 5 Kruger National Park, South Africa 74 6 Kyoto historic district, Japan 74 6 Quebec City historic center, Canada 74 6 Vermont, USA 74 6 Bay of Islands, New Zealand 73 7 Heidelberg, Germany 73 7 Laurentian Highlands, Quebec-Canada 73 7 Salzburg historic center, Austria 72 8 Alpine regions, Switzerland 71 9 Charleston, SC, historic center, USA 71 9 Colorado Rockies, USA 71 9 Dubrovnik, Croatia 71 9 Easter Island, Chile 71 9 Fez historic center, Morocco 71 9 Inside Passage, Alaska/Canada 71 9 Maine coast, USA 71 9 Northern California coast (Marin-Eureka) 71 9 Ring of Kerry, Ireland 71 9 Tuscany, Italy 71 9 Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) area, Australia 71 9 Yellowstone, USA 71 9 Baden Baden, Germany 70 10 Bavarian Alps, Germany 70 10 Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles 70 10 Krakow historic center, Poland 70 10 TOP SCORES Destination Scorecard ;; ;; ? ? THE GOOD Vermont MIDDLE SCORES It’s no surprise that Norway’s fjords, rated at 82, lead the Brittany, France 69 11 Four Corners (Colorado Plateau), USA 69 11 Loire Valley, France 69 11 St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands 69 11 Guanajuato, Gto., Mexico 68 12 Cotswolds, United Kingdom 67 13 top-scoring destinations, thanks to a combination of luck and wise stewardship. Geography dealt the Norwegian coastline a good hand when it comes to remaining un-spoiled. Rugged terrain, cool, wet climate, difficult access, and a short tourist season keep development pressures comparatively low. (Note how other “cool-fjord coasts” in Chile and New Zealand also scored well.) It helps, too, to be in a sparsely populated coun-try with one of the world’s best environmental track records (although even here some experts took points off for excessive cruise-ship traffic and threats to native salmon). More instructive perhaps is ever popular Tuscany, which man-aged a respectable 71 (“minor difficulties”) despite its attractive climate, fabulous cultural attractions, and easy access—often a formula for dismaying overdevelopment. What’s Tuscany’s secret? History helped: The Industrial Revolution chanced to skip over this Italian region, leaving intact its trademark landscape of hand-tended fields, vineyards, and olive groves, all draped over a softly Key for symbols Norwegian Fjords “This place is wonderful: living tradi-tional “One of the few places where a large percentage of the populace is committed to conservation/ preservation over injudicious development.” —Panelist Tom Clynes, travel author culture, wonderful landscape, not crowded. I am very happy with how this destination is managed. Excellent envi-ronmental quality, local people involved in a very smooth way.” —Panelist Eduardo Nycander, Rainforest Expeditions Remote geography helps some high-scoring destinations stay unspoiled. Other places have learned how to cope with popularity. environmental conditions social/cultural integrity condition of historic structures aesthetics tourism management outlook GREEN = good rating YELLOW = warning RED = bad rating Tight land-use codes protect Tuscan land-scapes that seem to come from an artist’s brush. “A genuine, cultured atmosphere,” adds one panelist, Prof. A.P. Grima, University of Toronto. 62 SANDRO SANTIOLI; DALLAS AND JOHN HEATON/CORBIS (OPPOSITE, UPPER), KATHLEEN BROWN/CORBIS (LOWER) NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER muscled topography. Even so, subdivisions might have long ago ruined the painterly scenery had Tuscans not adopted some of the world’s toughest land-use and building codes: In scenic zones, local regulations limit buildings to two stories, inhibit subdivision, and govern aesthetics, including which colors you can paint your house. Locals chafe under the rules, but let them stand. Shouldn’t people be allowed to build what they want on their own property, even if it’s ugly? Answers Alessandro Marangoni, in the region’s economic development office, “Then it hurts the value of my house.” Sensitivity to preserving sense of place extends even to such unobtrusive forms of tourism as farm stays. The government encourages agriturismo to help small farms stay in business, but wants authenticity: The farmer’s tax breaks and low-interest loans disappear if the family lets its tourism business exceed its farm revenue. The current minister of tourism, Susanna Cenni, even frets about Chianti villages that have become too cutesy. She’s seeking ways to revive authentic rural businesses in the area. If only other destinations had such problems . . . . ;; ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;;
  3. 3. rank score key factors Stewardship Index WILD Galápagos, Ecuador 67 13 San Juan Islands, WA, USA 67 13 Great Barrier Reef, Australia 66 14 Machu Picchu, Peru 66 14 Rhine Valley, Germany 66 14 Yosemite Valley, USA. 66 14 Amsterdam historic center, Netherlands 65 15 British Virgin Islands 65 15 Cuzco historic center, Peru 65 15 Grand Canyon, USA 65 15 Isle of Wight, United Kingdom 65 15 Salvador (Bahia) historic center, Brazil 65 15 Costa Rica 64 16 Lake District, United Kingdom 64 16 Petra, Jordan 64 16 Prague historic center, Czech Republic 64 16 Bahamian Out Islands 63 17 California wine country, USA 63 17 Cape Cod, U.S.A. 63 17 Iguaçu Falls, Argentina/Brazil 63 17 Mid-coast CA (Santa Barbara–Monterey) 63 17 Serengeti National Park, Tanzania 63 17 Capri, Italy 62 18 Fiji 62 18 Hawaii 62 18 Pompeii, Italy 62 18 Amalfi Coast, Italy 61 19 Borobudur, Indonesia 61 19 Mont-St.-Michel, France 61 19 Porto historic center, Portugal 61 19 St. Lucia 61 19 Sea of Cortez and its coast, Mexico 61 19 Tikal/Flores, Guatemala 61 19 Dead Sea, Israel/Jordan 60 20 Lake Tahoe, USA 60 20 Great Wall, China 59 21 Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru 59 21 Azure Coast, Turkey 58 22 Bali, Indonesia 58 22 MIDDLE SCORES (CONTINUED) Destination Scorecard NOT SO BAD Cuzco, Peru “Great Inca and colonial town, but in serious trouble . . . . Without real pro-tection and lack of local involvement. Numbers of tourists seem more highly valued than delivery of quality experi-ences.” —Panelist Lieve Coppin, consultant Yosemite Valley, California “Fantastic natural area, plagued by overuse and crowding during summer season.”—Panelist Kelly Bricker, University of West Virginia and former tour operator Mont-St.-Michel, France, rates well for historic preservation, poorly for overcrowding and envi-ronmental neglect that filled its bay with silt, and moderately well for outlook, as plans move ahead to restore the bay. Mid-scoring destinations remain attractive, but with worrisome degradation. Some places are doing something about it. Some aren’t. The many destinations receiving mid-range scores, 55 to 69, fall into two camps: those with strong positives can-celed out by equally strong negatives, and those with lots of notable, but not yet disastrous, negatives. Some of those in the first group are destinations with two faces. At Yosemite, for instance, experts noted the park’s divided personality: Its gorgeous scenery and backcountry versus traffic and crowding in Yosemite Valley. The park’s new methods for cop-ing with high visitation there, such as expanded shuttle service and fewer parking lots, did receive cautious praise. On Cape Cod, similarly, a national seashore protects the outer beaches and much of the peninsula’s forearm, but development, including hundreds of vacation homes, has ballooned to occupy virtually every unprotected stretch of shoreline and much of an interior that was semiwilderness just 50 years ago. For France’s Mont-St.-Michel, raves for historic preservation con-trasted with numerous complaints about high-season hordes, tacky souvenir shops, and the like. Many experts noted that environmental 64 PHILIP GOULD/CORBIS, SERGIO PESSOLANO (OPPOSITE UPPER), GERALD FRENCH/CORBIS (LOWER) NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER problems in the surrounding bay are finally being addressed. If that effort succeeds, this score should go up in years to come. The Maya ruin of Tikal and its associated tourist town of Flores in Guatemala also present two faces, but the area as a whole received many comments in the not-yet-disastrous vein. While acknowledging the beauty of Tikal, experts zeroed in on numerous problems: underappreciated ecological wonders, poor information for visitors, growing danger from deliberate forest burn-off, lack of tourism benefit for locals, pollution in Flores, inadequate destina-tion management, and hotels without environmental controls. “It’s not too late to save,” summed up one travel writer. Some destinations were judged against their reputations. Costa Rica’s surprisingly mediocre score, for instance, reflected a widely held feeling that poor tourism management and widespread defor-estation does not match the image of an ecotourism leader that the country likes to project. “Not too late to save.” It’s a good summary for all these middle-zone destinations. Key for symbols environmental conditions social/cultural integrity condition of historic structures aesthetics tourism management outlook GREEN = good rating YELLOW = warning RED = bad rating ;; ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;;
  4. 4. Destination Scorecard GETTING UGLY St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. “Massive overvisitation by massive cruise ships.” —Andrew Drumm, The Nature Conservancy “Hard to differentiate St. Thomas from an overcrowded Florida shopping mall.” —Cary Wolinsky, photographer About the Survey Evaluating an entire destina-tion requires weighing such subtle issues as aesthetic appeal and cultural integrity, as well as balancing good points against bad. No simplistic numerical measures could do jus-tice to the task. The best solu-tion was to turn to informed human judgment. We convened a global panel of over 200 experts in a variety of fields—ecology, sustainable tourism, geography, urban and regional planning, travel writing and photography, historic preservation, cultural anthropology, archaeology—all well traveled enough to have a good basis for comparing desti-nations against each other. We asked experts to evaluate only those places with which they were familiar, using six cri-teria weighed as appropriate to each destination: environmental and ecological quality; social and cultural integrity; condition of any historic buildings and archae-ological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and the outlook for the future. For places where experts dis-agreed widely, a second round of scoring used a version of a research tool called the Delphi technique, whereby panelists anonymously exchange further comments about the place and then re-score accordingly. The index, then, is a compila-tion of informed judgments and perceptions about places that may themselves have many faces. It should be taken as such. In low-scoring Key West, for example, you can still find an eco-friendly conch farm and plenty of back-street charm; high-scoring Tuscany still must cope with a badly polluted Arno River and summer overcrowding in Florence and Siena. Like the cards that Olympic judges hold up, our experts’ scores take into account both measurable accomplishment and the intangibles of style, aesthet-ics, and culture. And like Olympic athletes, each destina-tion has a chance to improve its performance. Daniel Chang, Elizabeth Parisian, Leeds Metropolitan University, and many others helped with this study. For a list of panelists and more of their observations, see rank score key factors Stewardship Index WILD Reef and islands of Belize 58 22 Corfu (Kerkira), Greece 57 23 Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt 57 23 Annapurna Circuit, Nepal 56 24 Masai Mara, Kenya 56 24 Rajasthan, India 56 24 St. Petersburg historic center, Russia 56 24 Barbados 55 25 Crete, Greece 55 25 Havana historic center, Cuba 55 25 Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania 55 25 MIDDLE SCORES (CONTINUED) LOWER SCORES Amboseli, Kenya 54 26 Aruba 54 26 Everglades, USA 54 26 Hue, Vietnam 53 27 Tahiti 53 27 Angkor, Cambodia 52 28 Canary Islands 52 28 Outer Banks, NC, USA 52 28 Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe 52 28 Acropolis, Greece 51 29 Chang Mai, Thailand 51 29 Pyramids, Giza, Egypt 51 29 Balearic Islands, Spain 50 30 Great Smoky Mountains, USA 49 31 Venice, Italy 49 31 Bethlehem, Israel/Palestine 48 32 French Riviera 48 32 Algarve, Portugal 46 33 Caribbean Coast, Q.R., Mexico 46 33 Costa Brava, Spain 46 33 Negril, Jamaica 46 33 North coast, Dominican Republic 46 33 St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 45 34 Key West, FL, USA 43 35 Phuket area, Thailand 43 35 North coast, Jamaica 42 36 Costa del Sol, Spain 41 37 Benidorm exemplifies the heavy footprint of package tourism on Spanish islands and coasts. Cheap hotel sprawl prompted low scores for the Canaries, Balearics, Costa Brava, and Costa del Sol. Loved to death? Or exploited to death? Both could apply to low-scoring victims of crowding, poor planning, and greed. Still, there’s hope. Look at the bottom 11 entries on the index: Every one of these low-scorers are sun-and-sand shorelines and islands. Behind that lurks an arithmetic reality: The population of beach-lovers is ever growing, and there’s only so much seacoast to go around. A rising demand for a finite resource calls for wise stewardship. Unfortunately, bulldozers often come before brains when quick profits beckon. One textbook example is Spain’s Costa del Sol—the overbuilt “Costa del Concrete,” which caters to package tours from north-ern Europe, and where you can hear more English or German than Spanish. As with many uncontrolled seashores, a nonstop line of characterless hotels blocks off the coastline. Proving such a tide can be turned, one Majorcan town has now razed a few hotels. On any attractive shore, if no policies exist to cluster mass-tourism hotels, or preserve traditional towns and open space, resort sprawl tends to take over. Community leaders in a few such destinations have begun to recognize the problem, asking how best to handle hordes of tourists who are more interested in sun, rum, and each other than in the country they happen to be visiting. Different threats place other low-scoring destinations at risk: excess popularity (the Acropolis and the Great Smokies), political or civil strife (Bethlehem), poorly planned mass sightseeing (Angkor), encroaching urban development (the Pyramids), inappro-priate tourism development (Great Smokies again—i.e., Gatlinburg), even sea-level rise from global warming (Venice). This Stewardship Index is intended to be a wake-up call. Low scoring places can learn from high-scorers, and many of the desti-nations on the facing page have begun to take countermeasures. Often, though, it’s very, very late in the game. Jamaica’s resort town of Negril, for instance, has a vigorous reef-restoration pro-gram— now that as much as 90 percent of its reef has died, due to both local and global factors. Negril may be working on reform, but in many travel paradises greed and shortsightedness still rule. Unless that attitude changes, countless destinations remain golden-egg-laying geese, filing down the path to the chopping block. GLENN CAMPBELL/GETTY IMAGES, JOEL W. ROGERS/CORBIS (OPPOSITE) Key for symbols environmental conditions social/cultural integrity condition of historic structures aesthetics tourism management outlook GREEN = good rating YELLOW = warning RED = bad rating ;; 66 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER 67 ? ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ;; ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?