The first year, we were flattered. The second, we were stunned. The third, we blushed. The fourth, we raised an eyebrow. The fifth, we were kind of embarrassed. The sixth, we double-checked the votes. The seventh, we just sighed and rolled our eyes.
And now, having just been named the top tourist destination in the United States by Condé Nast Traveler readers for the eighth year running, we’d politely ask that it stop.
Sure, Charleston’s restaurants, hotels, museums, galleries, mansions, beaches and natural landscapes are second to none. Sure, the city’s residents deserve a reputation of Southern hospitality.
You don’t have to tell us. But you don’t have to tell everyone else either.
With about 10 times more visitors each year than full-time residents, we’d say the word is fully out that Charleston is a great place to spend a few days. No additional advertising needed.
By the way, Greenville is No. 8 on the list this year. It’s beautiful in the fall. So are Asheville, N.C., and Savannah.
Not that we’re complaining about tourism’s $7.4 billion annual economic impact in Charleston. That’s a lot of cash, and without it, a lot of us would be out of work. The steady stream of accolades from Condé Nast Traveler and other travel publications helps keep the local economy booming.
But we wouldn’t mind Charleston making some other “Best Cities” lists that don’t have anything to do with travel.
Charleston was the No. 33 most livable city in the United States, for example, according to a 2016 analysis from 24/7 Wall St., an economic commentary website. It was No. 38 according to Business Insider that year.
In 2018, we took No. 27 on Livability.com. The city scored high on civic engagement and the economy — thanks in no small part to all of those tourists who keep rating Charleston so highly. But we flunked infrastructure and housing.
It could be worse, of course. We’re far from last place. Most of us who live here like it just fine. But if we can consistently rank as the No. 1 travel destination, there’s no reason we can’t be a No. 1 place to live too.
For the most part, local leaders know the challenges and are working to fix them. We’ve made strides on housing attainability, road improvements, investment in public transportation and several other areas.
We’ve also got a long way to go.
The more people who visit and the more who stay make maintaining a high quality of life even more urgent and important.
Of course, these are mostly good problems to have. Better to be an attractive, growing city struggling to keep up with its successes than a dying one trying to figure out how to keep the lights on.
We’ll still welcome visitors with open arms. We’ll still graciously accept awards.
But Charleston as a whole, including the parts that tourists don’t often get to see, ought to be a “Top City” too. That would truly be an accolade worth winning.