Credit: Richard Phibbs

Okay, so here’s the scoop on Travel + Leisure’s annualWorld’s Best Awards, a survey fielded during the roiling weeks frommid-January to the end of March 2009. And the winners are: value, intimacy,service, and discovery—tracing the outlines of T+L readers’ travelinterests in this challenging economic reality. An unprecedented number of newnames and places made their debuts on this year’s list, sometimesunseating longtime favorites: When the highest-rated properties in the U.S. andCanada are the Inn at Manitou, in Ontario, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, in SouthCarolina, and the diminutive Eliot Hotel, in Boston, surely something is afoot.As for that so-last-August-sounding word, luxury, it’s all aboutenclaves that shelter stealth wealth (from Amankora Paro in Bhutan to SanYsidro Ranch in Montecito, California), where casual and laid-back are thenames of the game. Dramatically sited outposts like Jade Mountain, in St.Lucia, and Blancaneaux Lodge, in Belize, top the Caribbean and Central andSouth America categories, and an adventurous spirit also prevails when it comesto the No. 1 property in the world, Bushmans Kloof, in the Cedar Mountains ofSouth Africa, and No. 2, Oberoi Vanyavilas, near India’s RanthambhoreTiger 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 suchfar-flung metropolises made a strong showing, it comes as good news to many ofus that they did not entirely steal the show; old favorites, like T+L’shometown, New York City (hooray!), as well as Florence, Rome, and San Franciscoremain in the top 10.

For the past three years, the announcement of the World’s Best Awards winners has beenpreceded by the release of findings from “The Survey of Affluence andWealth in America,” created by Travel + Leisure’s parentcompany, American Express Publishing, and Harrison Group, a strategic-marketingresearch firm. This year in particular, I was struck by the consistency of theinsights into the minds of American consumers that these very different surveysprovide, touching as they do on a high regard for value and service, brandloyalty (hence the success of numerous Four Seasons and Oberoi properties), andsmall 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 hotelsT+L readers have selected in 2009. In spite of it all, the majority ofAffluence and Wealth respondents admitted to having a higher level ofhappiness, as a result of their newfound sense of control and resourcefulness,and they continued to express an enthusiasm for travel (weekend getaways andvacations still matter). How very handy it is that the T+L World’s BestAwards provide a generous supply of options through the excellent choices thatyou, our readers, have made.

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