Top Travel Destinations, How Do We Count Thee?

Reports and polls determining the top travel destinations in the world come to us in variety of ways throughout every year. Travel related companies tally internal data to make their lists. Government agencies publish the most frequented destinations based on incoming flights, hotel reservations and other criteria. Non-profit organizations have an unbiased tone to ranking top destinations too. Often, it is as important to consider the source as it is the ratings themselves.

Today, TripAdvisor announced the winners of its fourth-annual 2012 Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards. TripAdvisor ranks 440 outstanding destinations across the globe, including lists for Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Central America, China, Europe, India, Mexico, the Middle East, South America, the South Pacific and the United States.

“The TripAdvisor community has once again helped pinpoint hundreds of the most amazing and beloved travel destinations of the year,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor in a Hospitality-Industry report.

“For travelers planning their big annual vacation or just a weekend getaway, these awards highlight awe-inspiring travel locations of all varieties around the globe.”

Lets look at their top ten.

  1. London, England
  2. New York City, New York
  3. Rome, Italy
  4. Paris, France
  5. San Francisco, California
  6. Marrakech, Morocco
  7. Istanbul, Turkey
  8. Barcelona, Spain
  9. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  10. Berlin, Germany

TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Destination award winners were determined based on the popularity of destinations, taking into account travelers’ favorites and most highly rated places.

But wait. Last month, in “Suspicious About Hotel Reviews? You Are Not Alone,” Gadling reported that the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority had ruled that TripAdvisor’s advertised claim of “trusted advice from real travelers” was misleading because fake comments could be posted without verification.

If that is true and TripAdvisor based the 2012 Traveler’s Choice Destination award winners on the same faulty data, where should we look for information that can be trusted?

Maybe no where. Maybe we should consider rankings as entertainment because those who rank destinations stand behind their numbers.

“People may think if a place only got one diamond, it can’t be any good,” said Todd Cronson, regional manager for AAA Tourism Information Development in the Seattle Times. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe the lighting styles are out of date, maybe the furniture is older, but if it got a diamond from us, it’s perfectly clean, safe and well-maintained.”

Maybe the whole notion of a destination rating system, while coveted by those who rank high for bragging rights, should be viewed with caution.

Paul James, global brand leader of Starwood‘s luxury brands told the Seattle Times, “I thought a universal star rating system was essential. But the more time you spend in the industry, and you understand the complexity of it, the more you see a hierarchical star system as completely outmoded.”

Subjective criteria is always going to be difficult to measure. What one traveler finds essential, another may not care about at all. Instead, focusing on an easy-to-compare laundry list of features at the destination might be more valuable information to have.

Applying research theory used by professional travel agents for decades, make a list of must-have features and don’t give in on any of them. These are required elements you must have to be happy like, say, Internet access, safe and well-marked hiking trails or bike-friendly roads. Next, take that list and search for travel blogs that resonate for specific destination information.

Short of having a trusted friend who has been there, is eager to share what they did and how they did it, today’s travel blogs offer some of the best, most current and relevant information available…as opposed to basing travel decisions on a popularity contest.

Flickr photo by nattu