Destination Watch


How the National Geographic Stewardship Surveys Worked

The annual National Geographic destination stewardship surveys, known variously as “Places Rated” and “Destination Scorecard,” evaluated the qualities that make a destination unique, polling informed opinion on the elements that add up “integrity of place.” They were not a popularity contest, but rather assessments of authenticity and stewardship.

Because evaluating an entire destination involves such unquantifiables as aesthetics and cultural integrity, we decided the best measure was informed human judgment. For each survey we assembled a panel of 200 to almost 500 experts in a variety of fields—historic preservation, ecology, sustainable tourism, geography, travel writing and photography, site management, indigenous cultures, archaeology. All had to be well-traveled, able to compare relative quality among a wide variety of places. We asked panelists to evaluate only the destinations with which they were familiar. They sued six criteria weighted according to importance:

  1. environmental and ecological quality;
  2. social and cultural integrity;
  3. “built heritage,” condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites;
  4. aesthetic appeal;
  5. quality of tourism management; and
  6. outlook for the future.

For each survey, experts began by posting points of view on each destination— anonymously, to ensure objectivity. Then, after reading each others’ remarks—a variation of a research tool called the Delphi technique—panelists filed their final scores based on the six criteria. Each year’s list of panelists was posted at www.national

The resulting Stewardship Index rating is an average of informed judgments about each place as a whole—taking into account its many faces. Like the scores posted by Olympic judges, the experts’ ratings reflect both measurable factors and the intangibles of style, aesthetics, and culture. The goal was to encourage public discussion in each destination and encourage measures to improve.

Back to “About the Surveys.”

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