Okay, so here’s the scoop on Travel + Leisure’s annual World’s Best Awards, a survey fielded during the roiling weeks from mid-January to the end of March 2009. And the winners are: value, intimacy, service, and discovery—tracing the outlines of T+L readers’ travel interests in this challenging economic reality. An unprecedented number of new names and places made their debuts on this year’s list, sometimes unseating longtime favorites: When the highest-rated properties in the U.S. and Canada are the Inn at Manitou, in Ontario, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, in South Carolina, and the diminutive Eliot Hotel, in Boston, surely something is afoot. As for that so-last-August-sounding word, luxury, it’s all about enclaves that shelter stealth wealth (from Amankora Paro in Bhutan to San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California), where casual and laid-back are the names of the game. Dramatically sited outposts like Jade Mountain, in St. Lucia, and Blancaneaux Lodge, in Belize, top the Caribbean and Central and South America categories, and an adventurous spirit also prevails when it comes to the No. 1 property in the world, Bushmans Kloof, in the Cedar Mountains of South Africa, and No. 2, Oberoi Vanyavilas, near India’s Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. As for the Best City, it’s also in India—Udaipur. Like its top-ranked confrères—Cape Town, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai, and Luang Prabang—value ratings were sky-high. Though such far-flung metropolises made a strong showing, it comes as good news to many of us that they did not entirely steal the show; old favorites, like T+L’s hometown, New York City (hooray!), as well as Florence, Rome, and San Francisco remain in the top 10.
For the past three years, the announcement of the World’s Best Awards winners has been preceded by the release of findings from “The Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America,” created by Travel + Leisure’s parent company, American Express Publishing, and Harrison Group, a strategic-marketing research firm. This year in particular, I was struck by the consistency of the insights into the minds of American consumers that these very different surveys provide, touching as they do on a high regard for value and service, brand loyalty (hence the success of numerous Four Seasons and Oberoi properties), and small rewards (so-called micro-pleasures in the Amex/Harrison Group study), which can easily define the more modest price and scale of many of the hotels T+L readers have selected in 2009. In spite of it all, the majority of Affluence and Wealth respondents admitted to having a higher level of happiness, as a result of their newfound sense of control and resourcefulness, and they continued to express an enthusiasm for travel (weekend getaways and vacations still matter). How very handy it is that the T+L World’s Best Awards provide a generous supply of options through the excellent choices that you, our readers, have made.
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