On 11 January 2009 the New York Times (NYT) published a piece entitled The 44 Places to Go in 2009. The introduction suggests that they are the new year’s ‘most compelling destinations’ and they’re presented in an order of preference ‘recommended’ by the NYT. At the article’s request, readers also voted on their favourites and, with the click of a button, the preferences can be shuffled to reflect readers’ recommendations too.
Reader comments on the article covered fairly predictable ground, lamenting omitted destinations (“Nothing in China? I am a bit surprised.” “Not a single Canadian destination?”), suggesting new ones (“Visit Poland!” “Tanzania? Kenya”?), criticising those on the list (“Dallas? You’ve got to be kidding!” “Beirut? Get real.”), questioning the division into sub-categories (“How is Greece not a cultural option?” “Can someone explain to me how $600 a night in South Africa is ‘frugal’?”) and even challenging the validity and sustainability of the topic (“Honestly, how many working people will be able to afford big vacations this year?” “Do the authors and publishers of travel pieces like this bear responsibility for the environmental damage wrought by those who go?”)
One of my personal favourites is this one: “Please add the category that shows where the jobs are that allow people to spend money to travel. In my world, most of these trips are the equivalent of more than a couple of month’s rent. Call it ‘employo-tourism.’ ”
I won’t add my own very long list of criticisms of the choices offered or of people’s responses. Well, OK, I can’t resist just one: Just how could Buffalo (New York) be the number three people’s recommended destination for 2009? I have nothing against the place, but, really, more appealing than the entire country of South Africa? Please.
Actually, I have another one: Like many of the people who commented, I find the presentation of the list to be incredibly disingenuous. While I can imagine the day when whl.travel will publish its own lists, I will endeavor to be more transparent about our selection criteria and more clear about our original pool being solely our suite of offered destinations.
Then again, I wonder if these lists serve any real purpose or if (as I sometimes suspect) they are really just a commercial obligation put forth as an opinion. Have you ever made a travel choice as a function of such a list (I haven’t)? And, in the end, is it fair for one set of apple destinations to be compared to the orange set and the peach set and the pineapple set? How can you ever measure the comparative merits of ‘A Pennsylvania Farm’ over all of India?
(On an related-but-different note, I find very encouraging how well whl.travel has anticipated this (dubiously accurate) New York Times overview. If you subtract the 10 American and 10 major European destinations (markets into which we have not yet pushed), of the remaining 24, whl.travel has active partners in or near 14 of them, including (in order of NYT preference) Beirut, Qatar (coming), Dakar, Phuket, Marrakech, the Aegean Sea (see Greece and Turkey), Penang (see other destinations in Malaysia), Florianopolis, Boracay, South Africa, India, Madagascar, Tasmania (see other destinations in Australia) and Zambia.)