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from March 2004
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Destination Scorecard: 115 Places Rated

One textbook example is Spain's Costa del Sol—the overbuilt "Costa del Concrete," which caters to package tours from northern 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), inappropriate 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. Often, though, it's very, very late in the game. Jamaica's resort town of Negril, for instance, has a vigorous reef-restoration program—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.

About the Survey

Evaluating an entire destination 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 justice to the task. The best solution 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 destinations against each other.

We asked experts to evaluate only those places with which they were familiar, using six criteria weighed as appropriate to each destination: environmental and ecological quality; social and cultural integrity; condition of any historic buildings and archaeological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and the outlook for the future.

For places where experts disagreed 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 compilation 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, aesthetics, and culture. And like Olympic athletes, each destination has a chance to improve its performance.

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