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

Frommer’s reveals top destinations for 2012

What destination are you dreaming of for 2012? The staff at Frommer’s have just unveiled their list of top travel destinations for the coming year. Included in the list is a little something for everyone: large metropolises, secluded beach towns, colorful riverside villas, and more.

But Frommer’s didn’t just rely on their expert editors and author’s for this years list–they also polled readers to find out where they wanted to visit in 2012. Click through the gallery below to see Frommer’s (and their reader’s) picks–including one surprising midwestern city that is the only spot in the United States to make the cut.

Other Winners:
Top Family Destination: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Top Cruise Destination: Tromso, Norway
Top Beach Destination: Hanalei Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Top Adventure Destination: Moab, Utah
Top Food & Drink Destination: Lima, Peru
Top City Break Destination: Chicago, Illinois
Top Endangered Destination: Aysen Region, Chile
Top Value Destination: Albanian Riviera
Top Destination to Get Lost: Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Eat, drink and ski happy in Salt Lake this winter

What’s the happiest place on Earth? Well, Disney claims that title, but here’s the problem: Utah does, too. If they were in different countries, no conflict would exist, but since they do, we have to sort this out.

A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index recently released ranks Utah highest among all states in happiness. And, if that’s not enough, Men’s Fitness magazine ranked Salt Lake City fittest in America. So, the endorphins are firing, and Utah is thrilled. Want to get a little taste of this happiness?

The Gold Medial Podium Package celebrates Salt Lake’s Olympic legacy. Skiers and snowboarders can hit the slopes while taking advantage of some great deals. Book a four-night vacation by December 15, 2009 — including a Ski Salt Lake Super Pass — at any of the 22 participating hotels, and your fourth day on the slopes and your fourth night in the hotel are free.

One-day sale from Intrepid Travel starts now!

Intrepid Travel puts together some amazing trips, and today’s deal will make them even more accessible than usual. For the next nine hours, trips will be discounted deeply … all Intrepid trips … more than 400 of them. Price cuts range from 15 percent to 60 percent in this rare opportunity.

Trips departing soonest, of course, come with the greatest price breaks. Book an excursion that leaves in July, and you can generally knock 60 percent off the price. Those taking off in August can net you a savings of 30 percent, with the rest of the year’s trips 15 percent off.

The sale starts now and runs until 7:30 PM this evening. Each includes all accommodations and land transportation, some meals and a guide.

After the jump, you’ll get a sense of how much you can save.

Inca Encounter: this nine-day jaunt from Lima to Cuzco in Peru is only $664, down from $1,660

Road to Budapest: spend 15 days going from Vienna to Budapest for $692 – instead of $1,730

Kenya Adventure: eight days in Kenya will cost only $604, rather than $1,510

Talking Travel with Peter J. Frank, Editor-in-Chief of

For Peter J. Frank, Editor-in-Chief of, the on-line magazine spin off of Condé Nast Traveler, every day life and travel blend together. Vacations and work look a lot alike. Not that he’s complaining, but as he told Christopher Eliott earlier this year (see article), even trips meant just for fun and dinners out with friends often involve note-taking. Business trips might take him to those places most of us would drool over, but the pace would leave even the most seasoned of us breathless and wondering, now where am I again?

Seriously–as he explained his job, 11 days in the Florida Keys means 10 different hotels. Lucky for us though, Peter translates his notes into travel advice, making sure that’s readers have enough insider information to make the best choices when deciding what’s perfect for them. The August issue took on cruises, for example. A cruise ship by any other name would not smell as sweet.

Since Peter’s been sorting the dazzling from the dud experiences for 14 years now–he also was also an editor at Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast and the travel section of Men’s Journal,—we at Gadling decided he’d be perfect for a Talking Travel sit down. Happily, we were able to snag Peter for an e-mail interview so he could pass on more of his travel tidbits and tales. Enjoy.

You’ve been a travel-writing type guy for awhile. Has travel always been your passion or did you just fall into it?

I’ve always loved traveling, but it wasn’t in my life plan to become a travel editor. I’d studied English in college and wanted to move to New York, so it made sense to get into magazines – and my first job happened to be at a great travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler. I worked my way up from there.

What was the trip you took that first hooked you into travel? What made it so special? How old were you?

I was about 19 when backpacked around Italy for a week. I had traveled in Europe before, but this was my first solo trip and a great lesson in self-sufficiency: I had to decipher train schedules, talk my way into packed pensiones, order off exotic menus, and so forth. I saw some great cities off the main tourist track: Perugia, Ravello, Verona. I ended up in Venice, where I met my father and stepmother, who had just gotten off a cruise and were staying at the Danieli. My clothes were all filthy from a week’s worth of traveling, so I sent my laundry in–$200 worth. He’s still after me for the money!

Where do you think cutting corners on the cost of a trip is a bad idea? What experiences do you think are worth paying for?

You can definitely save on laundry! I don’t mind splurging on a fabulous hotel or a great restaurant — actually, part of my job is to review places that are expensive, so I can tell our users whether it’s worth their hard-earned dough. But I try to balance out big-money places with less-expensive options, since our readers are also looking for ways to save. Regardless, I think it’s always worth spending money for the opportunity to experience the best of a foreign culture, whether that means eating the best sushi in Tokyo or paying a hefty admission fee to see the treasures of the Louvre, or hiring a guide to explain the intricacies of, say, the temples at Angkor. If you’ve come all that way, it would be a shame to miss out on the highlights for the sake of saving a few bucks.

Photo: Peter, the guy in the middle, has his notebook and pen in hand, not only paying attention to the sumptuous food in front of him, but his dining companions’ as well. (Photo credit: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

The latest has a mega section on cruise ships. That’s quite a menu. What do you think are the most important questions a person should ask before making a cruise ship choice?

We did that story, “Cruise 101“, because so many people ask us the difference between one cruise line and another. They don’t really understand what makes, say, Royal Caribbean distinct from Princess, or Sea Dream from Silversea. Unlike a hotel, once you board a cruise ship, you’re pretty much stuck there, so it’s critical to know that the ship you’re choosing is the right one for you. Will you be comfortable in the cabin? Will the other passengers be people like you? Is the emphasis on cultural discovery, or luxurious indulgence, or partying and socializing? Those more “philosophical” questions are just as important as those about price or logistics.

If all a person can afford is that budget cruise to the Bahamas, what can they do to make their experience a stand out?

Temper your expectations. If you’re only paying $500 for a weeklong cruise, and you’re expecting gourmet cuisine and a spacious cabin, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Understand what’s included and what’s not: A lot of cruise lines pile up the extra charges. And focus on why you’re there — to relax, to spend time with your family, to work on your tan — not on all the little things that might go wrong.

From your editorial background, I take it you have an interest in adventure travel. Are there any adventures you think a person should not take? What is an adventure travel experience you’ve had that you talk up to your friends.

It’s crucial to understand what you’re getting into before you go – are you physically up for this? Do you have the right shoes, the right clothes? Finishing a strenuous hike or rafting a whitewater river can be exhilarating, but if you’re blistered or freezing, your misery will outweigh the rewards. And while facing down your fears is important – don’t do something if you’re going to be so terrified that you won’t be able to enjoy it. I went whitewater rafting down in Argentina a few years back, on rapids that were about Class IV — stronger than I’d ever done before. A few people on the trip were scared, but I wasn’t. In fact, the boat flipped and I got flung into the water, and had to float a while before I could get back into the boat. It was scary for a minute, but it was also pretty thrilling – and hilarious.

You’ve a background in fashion editing, as well as, travel. What are your favorite clothes that you like to take on a trip and the must-have items?

I’m a terrible packer, actually. I either bring a ton of stuff and end up wearing only half of it, or I pack too little and end up having to shop for clean socks. Fortunately, most places have gotten casual enough that you can get away with packing nice jeans and a few button-down shirts, rather than having to worry about suits and ties. One thing I always wear is slip-on shoes for the flight. I don’t understand why people insist on wearing sneakers or lace-ups or even boots to the airport, when they know they’re going to have to take them off. I just slip ’em off, slip ’em back on, and I’m outta there.

I saw a YouTube video of you on E News last year talking up the hot, sexy clubs around the world where stars go. Fun piece to watch. It has a breezy feel to it. How did you get involved?

That was based on a story we’d done in our “World’s Sexiest” series – I think it was the “World’s Sexiest Parties,” and it was about clubs and bars that the jet-setters go to. The people at E! saw the story and wanted me to talk about it on camera. The celebrity culture in this country has gotten pretty out of hand, but we do cover that a bit as well. Let’s face it, celebrities are pretty good role models when it comes to travel: They can afford to go wherever they want, so if they like a certain club or restaurant or hotel, odds are it’s a pretty special place.

How much do you get to hang out with hot sexy stars? Is this a perk of your job? Being that I’ve never been in a club with a hot, sexy star, I’m just wondering.

Yeah, right! Actually, the reporter who wrote that story works for and she actually does hang out with the hot, sexy people — not me. The closest I came to hanging out with a star was when I was staying at the same hotel in Miami as Madonna.

Here’s the YouTube video we’re talking about. There’s great footage of Peter. Personally, I think he’s a TV natural. Check out the stars he mentions and see what a difference a year makes.

What do you enjoying most about editing

Learning about all phenomenal experiences people can have the world over. I have the fortune of working with some pretty terrific writers, who are able to describe the great adventures and experiences they’ve had in language that’s evocative and inspiring. It’s torture sometimes – since I’ll never be able to do all these things myself – but I enjoy reading about them, and sharing them with our users.

It seems that a big part of your job is to enhance people’s life experiences by enticing them to travel. What’s the best travel advice has ever passed onto people?

I think what we do best is collect amazing places and experiences and make them easy for people to learn about. The site is like a catalog of the best things to do and see in the world. That said, we never take a place at face value: We’re not afraid to be critical, and we take pains to explain why a specific hotel is better suited to one type of traveler over another. Just because a place is expensive and luxurious and ranks high on some magazine’s list doesn’t mean it’s the best place for you.

What would be your trip of a lifetime?

I have so many! There are plenty of places I haven’t seen that I feel are critical: Vietnam is at top of that list right now. And there are the destinations that I love returning to again and again, like Rome, Istanbul, Tokyo, [Paris]. It’s a long list that keeps on getting longer!

Here’s the video ” 24 Hours in. . . Paris” from’s video library. It has all of Peter’s favorite places and is a chance to see the City of Love through Peter’s eyes, and probably at his speed.

When Peter does make it to Vietnam, I’m sure his notebook will be overflowing with details. I’ve been to Vietnam five times now, and certainly wouldn’t mind finding another Hanoi hotspot or hidden treasure as the result of Peter’s travels. 24 Hours in. . . Hanoi would be a fine video to see.