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from March 2004
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Destination Scorecard: 115 Places Rated

More instructive perhaps is ever popular Tuscany, which managed 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 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....

Not so Bad
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 canceled 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 National Park, 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 coping 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 contrasted with numerous complaints about high-season hordes, tacky souvenir shops, and the like. Many experts noted that environmental 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 destination 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 deforestation do 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.

Getting Ugly

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. 

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Center for Sustainable Destinations

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