We're No. 1! Charleston named top tourist destination in US for third consecutive year
The third accolade is a charm, just like the first and second ones.
Top U.S. spots
2. Sante Fe, N.M.
3. San Francisco
6. Carmel, Calif.
7. New Orleans
8. New York City
10. Napa, Calif.
Conde Nast Traveler
1. San Miquel de Allende, Mexico
2. Florence, Italy
3. Budapest, Hungary
4. Salzburg, Austria
6. San Sebastian, Spain
7. Vienna, Austria
8. Rome, Italy
9. Siena, Italy
10. Quebec City, Canada
Source: Conde Nast Traveler
For three years running, Charleston has been dubbed the No. 1 tourist destination in America by readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
By the numbers
The tourism industry added $3.58 billion to Charleston's economy in 2012, about $3.6 million more than the previous year.
The average tourist spends about $200 per day on lodging, food, transportation, tours and shopping.
4.83 million people visited Charleston in 2012, a 17% increase since 2008.
The hotel occupancy rate in Charleston County has increased steadily since 2009 when it was 63%. In 2012, it was 71%. It's also up 0.6% so far this year, meaning hotels are filling more rooms, demand is increasing and prices are going up.
Lodging sales grew by more than $100 million from 2008 to 2012.
Source: College of Charleston Office of Tourism Analysis
The annual award announced Tuesday is based on a composite score for ambiance, friendliness, lodging, restaurants, culture/sites and shopping.
We asked tourists and locals alike what they thought about Charleston being ranked No. 1 tourist destination in the U.S.:
“I think it's awesome. I love coming here.”
Polly Kramer, Evansville, Ind.
“I pretty much think they are right on the money because there is so much to do here.”
Annette Baker, North Charleston
“This place is wonderful. I love the charm of it. About two years ago, on Nov. 3, we were married here. I like the relaxation of it. You can walk around without worrying about something happening to you. You don't have rude people like they do in bigger cities.”
Bill McGinnis, Fort Wayne, Ind.
“The people make it special. The hospitality and Southernness of the city draw people here.”
Jocobra Bennett, Mount Pleasant
“They have good taste in choosing this city. I hope to live up to their expectations.”
Bill Ussery, Charleston
“It's beautiful. It reminds me of Venice in Italy with all the old buildings.”
Debbie Stockburger, Cincinnati, Ohio
“I love Charleston. I like to try different things. I like to walk, and it's a beautiful city. I was excited to come back after about 30 years.”
Sharon Marshall, Wyalusing, Pa.
“It's not surprising. It's a great city. This is reminiscent of New Orleans.”
Greg Hill, Lafayette, La.
“I totally agree (with the ranking). You cannot go wrong in Charleston.”
Melona Lacomba, Columbia
The magazine said, “With sand, sun, history, good food, and friendly people, Charleston is a consistent hit with the travelers who venture to this gracious and beautiful city. Nearby beaches and impressive architecture draw visitors, but it's the insanely nice locals who enhance magnificent bed and breakfasts and amazing shopping.”
One magazine reader called it, “A bucket list city.”
Conde Nast Traveler also addressed how a moderate-size city outranked major metropolitan areas, such as New York, Paris and Sydney.
“Because great cities combine exceptional qualities, they do not have to be big to score big,” according to the magazine.
Gov. Nikki Haley called it “another great win for our state.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley hailed the honor as “a testament to the power of the attraction of Charleston.”
“It is the message of our history, quality of our built environment, the kindness of our people and the attributes of our restaurants and lodging that make our city an impressive place to visit,” Riley said.
The magazine's readers bestowed the honor on the Holy City a year after naming it the No. 1 place for tourists to visit on the planet.
Meanwhile, Charleston slipped to No. 5 this year in the world rankings. San Miguel de Allende in Mexico came in at No. 1, followed by Florence, Italy; Budapest, Hungary; and Salzburg, Austria.
“A little point swing can make a difference,” said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In recognition of the award, the CVB posted an online video featuring American Idol finalist Elise Testone of Mount Pleasant singing while walking along the Battery, over cobblestone streets and beside window boxes filled with flowing flowers.
The video starts, “In 2011, we were flattered. In 2012, we were tickled pink. This year, we are swept off our feet.”
The tourism industry added $3.58 billion to Charleston's economy in 2012, about $3.6 million more than the previous year, according to the College of Charleston Office of Tourism Analysis. About 4.83 million tourists visited the city last year, up 17 percent since 2008.
CVB Chairman Frank Fredericks was flattered with the latest news.
“We have been tickled pink and on top of the world,” said Fredericks, managing director of Wild Dunes Resort, of the earlier top-city wins. “Now, Charleston is completely charmed to have received such an honor for the third year in a row.”
Tourists and locals alike sang the praises of the seaside port Tuesday as well.
“This place is just wonderful,” said Bill McGinnis or Fort Wayne, Ind., who was revisiting the city where he and wife Jane were married two years ago. “I like the relaxation of it. You can walk around without worrying about something happening to you. You don't have rude people here like they do in bigger cities. It's very casual.”
Debbie Stockburger of Cincinnati called Charleston a “beautiful place” on her first visit.
“It reminds me of Venice in Italy with all the old buildings,” she said.
Greg Hill of Lafayette, La., also was visiting the city for the first time this week.
“It's not surpising,” he said of the Conde Nast ranking as he walked through the historic City Market. “It's a great city. This is reminiscent of New Orleans.”
Ralph Lacomba of Columbia and his wife, Melona, drive to Charleston frequently.
“It feels a little bit different every time — in a good way,” he said. “If we ever retire, it will be here without a doubt.”
Dick Hernacki of Chicago originally planned to come to Charleston to see Fort Sumter, but with the partial government shutdown that includes federal parks, he and his wife changed plans and stopped by the city on their way south.
“We want to come back when we have more time,” he said. “It's very picturesque.”
Jocobra Bennett of Mount Pleasant said the reason Charleston is such a huge tourist draw is because of the people who live in the Lowcountry.
“The hospitality and the Southernness of the city draw people here,” he said.
A record-breaking nearly 80,000 Conde Nast Traveler readers participated in the survey, close to double the number in 2012. Travelers cast 1.3 million votes for more than 16,000 properties around the world.
The survey also included the top 100 highest-scoring hotels in the world.
Tied for No. 75 are The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island and Wentworth Mansion in downtown Charleston. The John Rutledge House Inn in Charleston came in at No. 99.
On the list of the top 10 islands in the U.S., Kiawah Island ranked No. 3. The Hawaiian islands of Maui and Kauai came in first and second, respectively.
On the list of the top 20 resorts in the South, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort ranked No. 4, Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms came in at No. 16 and Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant was No. 20.
Abigail Darlington contributed to this report. Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.