— History buffs, art lovers, architecture nerds, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, and even the well-traveled may be pleasantly surprised by this year’s list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, unveiled Tuesday by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Destinations range from an East Coast waterfront city that George Washington called home, to an Old West town that was once the unofficial capital of Indian territory, to a laid-back small town in wine country. Some places are off the beaten track. Others are well known, but harbor surprises.
“We are looking for examples of the American story through many different lenses that bring to life the diversity of our country” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust. The list “reinforces how our history was played out in every corner of this country.”
How destinations are chosen
This is the 12th year the National Trust has selected a dozen communities across America that offer visitors authentic cultural and recreational experiences that are different from the typical vacation destination. Those chosen “boast a richness of character and exude an authentic sense of place.” They combine historic appeal and modern culture, Meeks said, featuring dynamic downtowns, attractive architecture, cultural diversity, lively entertainment, and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.
For the first time, Wyoming made the list, with Sheridan, a town selected for its “authentic Western experience,” Meeks said. Including the current listing, there are 144 “Distinctive Destinations” in 46 states. One goal, Meeks said, is for travelers to find “a source of inspiration close to home.”
Do travelers benefit?
“Travelers like the concept that there are special places in the United States and the World that are 'must see, must do' destinations which offer the visitor a special experience,” said Sharr Prohaska, clinical associate professor, Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.
“Specialized lists also introduce potential visitors to places they never thought of visiting before which creates the impetus for their travel,” said Prohaska, who specializes in cultural heritage tourism and previously served as a National Trust advisor. “People appreciate that others have done the research for them in this age of information overload.”
Impact on tourism
Suzanne Cook, a senior advisor to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group, said several studies have shown that people are relying less on social media and other Internet sites and are “turning back to what they believe are more trusted sources.” Lists from credible organizations like the National Trust, she said, “can have a lot of influence.”
In addition, studies suggest that more and more people in the U.S., about 40 percent, “are really looking for travel experiences that are unique.” Sun, beach and family remain strong motivators, Cook said, but more people are “motivated to immerse themselves in local culture and history,” experiential travel that is personally enriching.
Budgetary concerns have also fueled this trend, Cook said. As a result of the economic downturn, research shows that people are being more deliberate about the money they spend on travel, and lists can assist that process.
The public is invited to vote online to help determine which of the 12 destinations will be the 2011 Fan Favorite. Click here for more information.