Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Thu July 07 2016

What Can We Learn from Travel and Leisure's 'Best Of' Lists?

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | July 07, 2016

What Can We Learn from Travel and Leisure's 'Best Of' Lists?

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Travel + Leisure has released its anticipated annual “best of” awards for 2016. The comprehensive list of categories covers virtually every major destination and travel niche.  The rankings are compiled based on the voting by T + L readers. 

The big question with rankings like this: Do they really paint an accurate picture of the year’s top travel performers and of the state of the travel industry? 

Let's take a look... 


The list of 10 best islands, accord to Travel + Leisure readers, is mostly without surprises. Santorini and Bali are on the list alongside Maui, Kauai and Hilton Head Island, which came in first. The Philippines performed especially well, with Boracay and Palawan taking the top two spots. 

Most of the top 10 islands have similar traits. They are accessible and popular, but you can still find quiet corners away from the tourist crowds. Some of the 10 best have obvious alternatives. Lombok, for example, is a less mainstream version of Bali that might appeal to tourists seeking somewhere less touristy.

More far-flung islands, like those in Fiji, the Canary Islands, the Maldives or French Polynesia would probably have cracked the top 10 if they had more visitors to vote for them. 


The list of the world’s 15 best cities was a little more diverse than the island rankings. Some major metropolises made the cut: Barcelona, Rome, Florence,  Bangkok and Kyoto.

Interestingly, T + L readers also found smaller cities attractive. Chiang Mai, Thailand and Luang Prabang, Laos were two more far-flung small cities that made the list. Savannah, Georgia came in at number nine and Charleston, South Carolina came it at number one thanks to its charming streets, deep history and surprisingly cosmopolitan eating and dining scenes. 

It looks like people are starting to embrace smaller cities, and these destinations, for their part, are starting to showcase their attractions and their cosmopolitan flair. Yes, these towns will never compete with larger metropolises in terms of overall number of attractions, but they can win when it comes to accessibility, user-friendliness and pleasantness. Like Charleston, they just have to have enough of the right kind of attractions to draw urban-minded travelers. 

Read More: Travel + Leisure Names the Best Destination Cities in the United States

Best hotel

To their credit, Travel and Leisure stuck with their practice of listing the top 100 hotels. This means that small bed-breakfast style inns could be included alongside major resorts. In cities, stylish hotels still rule, with New York City’s Knickerbocker and London’s Edgerton House both making the list. 

Remote resorts - like South Africa’s Madikwe Safari Lodge and Canada’s Fogo Island Inn - were well represented, as were classic hotels like Scotland’s Gleneagles and Florence’s palatial Villa Cora. 
Many of the list’s top hotels make otherwise remote destinations accessible and luxurious. The Southern Ocean Lodge, on Australia’s Kangaroo Island, brings modern comfort and design to an otherwise remote place, while Nihiwatu, a resort on Indonesia’s little-known Sumba Island, earned the number one spot overall thanks to its location and the fact that it uses local design and cuisine to provide a distinct sense of place to guests. 


The list of top 10 international airlines contains only one surprises. Canada’s Porter Airlines came it at number 10 despite the fact that its fleet is made up mainly of turboprop planes. Other than that, there were no surprises, with Singapore Airlines taking the top spot, followed by the three Gulf carriers, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic. 

In the US, legacy carriers were noticeably absent from the list of five best airlines. Though its future remains uncertain, Virgin America top this year’s rankings, followed by other flier favorites like JetBlue, Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines. 

[READ MORE] Read More: Can Virgin America Remain the Darling of Domestic Flyers?


Dubai, Singapore Changi, Zurich, Munich, Hong Kong and Amsterdam Schiphol have spent much of the past decade at the top many airport rankings. Tokyo Haneda, which is being heavily promoted by the city and by airlines as a more convenient alternative to far-flung Narita, earned the ninth spot this year.

One of the world’s safest airports, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion also earned a spot in the top 10, coming in at number six. Perhaps this shows that security has become more important to travelers after the terror attacks of the past year. 

Hotel brands

In the age of hotel consolidation, finding a good, reliable brand can be difficult. That said, once you realize that you can get the same level of service and quality from almost every Four Seasons, Dorchester or Langham, searching for the “perfect” place to stay gets easier. 

These hotel companies might not be as widespread as major brands, but they are better at providing personalized services and, more importantly, they have a well defined brand and consistently provide the same kind of experience. T + L's top ranked brand, Oberoi, is known for its unobtrusive service, grand surroundings and exotic locations in India, Mauritius and Indonesia. 

The Travel and Leisure “best of” rankings do hit many of the world’s top destinations, brands and services. The rankings give insight into travel industry trends as much as they tell you which places are the best for this year. 


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