Charleston is the No. 1 U.S. city for the sixth year in a row, as judged by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.
Charleston also made the publication’s list of the World’s Top 15 Cities. At No. 10, it’s the only U.S. city to make the cut this year. In 2016, Charleston was voted the world’s top city in that category.
The results of the annual World’s Best Awards survey were announced Tuesday morning on “The Today Show.”
Charleston keeps winning because it doesn’t just tout its history — it’s always coming up with something new, according to Travel + Leisure editor in chief Nathan Lump.
“This is a city not content to rest on its laurels as one of the most beautiful and well-preserved historic urban environments in the country,” Lump said in a statement. “Thanks to a creative local population intent on creating world-class experiences, there is always something new and exciting going on here, from a vibrant cultural scene to innovative food and drink to fresh takes on style and design.”
Other Southeast destination that were among the top 15 were New Orleans (No. 2), Savannah (No. 3), Asheville (No. 8) and Nashville (No. 9). Wiliamsburg, Va., was No. 12.
Linn Lesesne, board chair of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the latest distinction “a reminder that Charleston’s charm shines brightly through its people, historic streetscape, award-winning restaurants, world-class accommodations, pristine beaches, culture and shopping scene.”
The magazine’s readers picked Kiawah Island — a beachfront resort that’s part of the greater Charleston area — as the nation’s No. 3 island destination, up from No. 10 last year. Hilton Head was No. 1.
While Charleston remains a favorite destination for visitors, residents often worry that the increasing number of hotels and amenities aimed at upscale tourists threaten the quality of life of people who work and live in the city.
For example, at least 20 more hotels are either under construction or in the design phase on the peninsula, with more in the pipeline in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston. Planners have been grappling with ways to limit their impact on traffic and keep a healthy mix of residential, commercial and retail uses.
Helen Hill, the visitors bureau’s CEO, stressed that tourism creates business and keeps property taxes low for residents.
“Tourism drives tremendous direct and indirect economic growth in a community,” she said. “The competition has never been greater for these national accolades and the associated downstream benefits for a region. A stronger tax base generated by hospitality and tourism reduces some of the pressure on property taxes within our local communities.”
The College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis estimates the economic impact of tourism in the greater Charleston area last year at $7.4 billion, employing 40,000 workers.
Charleston County Aviation Authority CEO Paul Campbell said the kudos from high-profile travel publications such as Travel + Leisure can spur airlines to add flights and lower prices.
“We strongly believe this expanded service improves the quality of life for local residents as we simultaneously serve the needs of the business community,” he said.
Also of national significance, The Spectator Hotel in Charleston is No. 2 on the ranking of the Top 15 City Hotels in the continental U.S., with the Lowell in New York taking the top spot. Two other Charleston hotels area were also on that list. The Planter’s Inn, at No. 6, and the French Quarter Inn, at No. 11.