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from March 2004
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Destination Scorecard: 115 Places Rated
Text by Jonathan B. Tourtellot    Photograph by Peter Guttman/CORBIS
Destination Scorecard: 115 Places Rated
A motorized outrigger ferries tourists across a Tahitian lagoon.

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.

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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 survey, 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 increasingly 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 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 aesthetic integrity (see "About the Survey").

The scores that follow, based on a 1-to-100 scale, reflect the specialists' opinions. For each destination, symbols show which factors most influenced 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.

The Good

Remote geography helps some high-scoring destinations stay unspoiled. Other places have learned how to cope with popularity.
It's no surprise that Norway's fjords, rated at 82, lead the 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 unspoiled. 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 country 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).

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