Charleston is on top of the world.
For the first time ever, readers of Travel + Leisure magazine voted the Holy City No. 1 on the planet in the tourism periodical’s World’s Best City ranking.
It’s also the first time a U.S. destination earned the honor.
Readers also selected Charleston as the No. 1 city in the U.S. and Canada for the fourth consecutive year.
The magazine announced the findings on its website Wednesday and on NBC’s “Today Show.” The recognition for one of the city’s biggest industries comes slightly more than a year since Charleston was rocked by the mass shootings at Emanuel AME Church that left nine people dead.
The South was well-represented in the World’s Best rankings. Nearby Savannah came in at No. 9. New Orleans ranked No. 7. No other U.S. cities made the magazine’s Top 15 list.
Charleston took top marks in the categories of sights/landmarks, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people/friendliness, shopping and value, scoring 91.66 overall.
“Charleston is a remarkably dynamic place, so it’s no surprise that it has achieved its highest ranking ever in our survey as this year’s best city in the world,” Travel + Leisure editor Nathan Lump said.
“The city has managed to preserve all the qualities for which it is widely known — a prime coastal setting, historic architecture and friendly locals — while also nurturing a creative culture that is making it one of the most notable destinations for those who seek out interesting restaurants, bars and shops that highlight a dedication to distinctive craft.”
The magazine said on its website, “In addition to historic battlegrounds and jasmine-scented streets, Charleston is home to award-winning hotels ... and restaurants. Antebellum charm, excellent boutiques, and the beautiful waterfronts at Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach make this city one of the most beloved in the U.S. — and now, the world.”
The accolade will no doubt continue to draw people to Charleston, a seaside city with a growing port, cruise ships, and major industries such as Boeing, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.
Since 2012, the first year the city picked up the No. 1 city in the U.S. and Canada from the magazine’s readers, Charleston’s tourism economy grew 14 percent to $3.68 billion last year, according to the Office of Tourism Analysis at the College of Charleston.
“This award is a testament to the vitality of Charleston as a world-class destination,” said Dan Blumenstock, chairman of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and director of hotel operations for Fennell Holdings.
“The area’s tourism and hospitality community has enjoyed positive growth over the past four years, due in part to the numerous awards bestowed on the Charleston area,” he said. “We look forward to continued and responsible economic impact as a result of the No. 1 city in the world ranking.”
In addition to the top ranking, The Spectator Hotel in downtown Charleston garnered the prize for No. 1 hotel in the continental U.S. and No. 2 in the world.
“With the hotel only having opened less than a year ago, we are truly honored to be recognized by the readers of Travel + Leisure as the No. 1 Top City Hotel in the 2016 World’s Best Awards in the categories of rooms and facilities, service, location, value and design,” said Michael Tall, president and chief operating officer of Charlestowne Hotels.
The Travel + Leisure nod is not the first time Charleston has landed on top of a travel magazine’s survey. In 2012, readers of Conde Nast Traveler named Charleston the top city in the world, and for the past five years the city took home No. 1 in the U.S., though Conde Nast changed the categories last year to make Charleston the top small city in the United States.
Angela Drake, president of the Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, called the Travel + Leisure accolade “fabulous” and tipped her hat to the city’s tourism leaders for selling the Charleston brand to the world, but she also said the city must work hard to maintain what makes it special.
“We need to continue to preserve the quality of life we have, and we need to continue to work together to do that,” Drake said.
She believes top travel destination awards for the city such as the Travel + Leisure honor will likely attract more visitors.
“The cat’s out of the box,” she said of Charleston’s allure. “There is always going to be change. It’s just how we adapt to that change. We want to grow in a measurable way so that the quality of life can be maintained. All of the neighborhood associations work together with the city, whether it’s studying hotel growth, Airbnbs or tourism as a whole.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.