Survey finds Baltimore not too charming

Travel+Leisure magazine ranks city at bottom of the list

November 10, 2010|By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, The Baltimore Sun

Well, there's no place for Baltimore to go but up — at least according to the America's Favorite Cities 2010 survey recently released by Travel+Leisure magazine. The annual ranking included Charm City this year for the first time since 2003. Alas, the results show visitors were not charmed by Baltimore.

Of the 35 cities in the survey, Baltimore ranked at or near the bottom in a host of categories, according to visitors — and residents. Categories included culture, food, nightlife, shopping, people and quality of life.

Let's just focus on what visitors to Baltimore had to say. According to the 60,000 respondents who completed the online survey, the city ranked 34th (out of 35) in hotels, 28th in culture, 30th for food/dining, 32nd for nightlife, 33rd for shopping, 31st for local specialties and 34th in visitor experience.

And the best time to visit the city is, well, perhaps never. Baltimore ranked 35th in this category, which asked about visiting in fall, winter, summer and spring break. The only place worse to visit in winter is Seattle, according to the survey. Baltimore did rank better for summertime stays, coming in at 20th. But the city also ranked at the bottom for type of trip, being just about the last place for a romantic escape or relaxing retreat (32nd).

Despite the low rankings, Baltimore tourism officials say just being part of the survey gives the city a boost.

"It's good to be on the list," says Tom Noonan, president of Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism agency. "It tells me that Travel+Leisure thinks we're a Top 35 city. That's great."

Noonan says it's an outdated, steel-town image of Baltimore that likely hurt its rankings. He said people who visit for the first time are typically surprised by all the city has to offer.

He also points to recent surveys that have identified Baltimore as one of the most underrated cities.

"Our product is better than the perception out there, because they don't know how we've changed," he said. "I think some of the scores may have been higher if people knew us better."

For example, he said, the survey ranked Baltimore No. 18 for affordability.

"If they came here and saw it, then they would know they could walk everywhere, that hotel rates are low, that they can take Southwest [Airlines] to BWI," says Noonan, explaining the variety of low-cost options for travelers to the city.

Visit Baltimore is looking to some forthcoming events — including a June convention that will draw thousands of meeting planners to Baltimore — to help promote the city as a travel destination.

Next year's Baltimore Grand Prix race will be broadcast in 200 countries and has a course that organizers consider to be among the "sexiest," Noonan says. In addition, anniversaries for the War of 1812 and the Civil War will highlight the city's historical aspects.

"We've got to change people's perceptions about us," he says.

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it may take some work to raise Baltimore's ranking for attractiveness.

In the survey's people category, which includes ratings on the city's friendliness, style, diversity and intelligence, Baltimore ranked 34th overall. In intelligence, the city ranked 29th, just ahead of Philadelphia.

In attractiveness — this hurts more — Baltimore ranked 34th, or as Travel+Leisure puts it: No. 2 in least attractive people. The only city that is seen as less attractive is Memphis. (The prettiest and friendliest people are in Charleston, S.C., according to the survey.)

Here's what the magazine wrote about Baltimore:

"AFC readers weren't smitten with much of anything you'd find while out and about in this harbor city — it also ranks at No. 34 for people-watching, public parks, and safety. What did readers like best about Baltimore? Staying inside, perhaps alone, with a nice beer: it ranks No. 21 for microbrews."

Other surveys this year have been more favorable to the city, including Sherman's Travel and Lonely Planet.com, both of which placed Baltimore among the Top 10 Underrated Cities. Also, Travel+Leisure recently included the American Visionary Arts Museum on a list of 10 places to see before you're 10.

Of the cities that were added to this year's Travel+Leisure survey, some ranked better than Baltimore (Savannah is one example) and some ranked worse (Memphis).

And many cities did not make the list, as Noonan points out.

"Is Cleveland on the list? Is Fort Lauderdale on the list?" he says. "It's basically saying, 'Hey you made the playoffs.' Some teams didn't even make the playoffs. I'd rather make the playoffs."

But the city is not making the cut in another way. When the magazine publishes the survey's results in its December issue, it will highlight 30 of the 35 cities. Baltimore won't be included.

michelle.deal@baltsun.com

America's Favorite Cities

Some highlights from the survey by Travel+Leisure magazine:

Affordable hotels

1. Nashville

2. Salt Lake City

3. Houston

4. San Antonio, Texas

5. Savannah, Georgia

28. Baltimore

Historical sites/monuments

1. Washington, D.C.

2. Charleston, South Carolina

3. Savannah, Georgia

4. Boston

5. San Antonio, Texas

18. Baltimore

Romantic escape

1. Honolulu

2. Savannah, Georgia

3. Charleston, South Carolina

4. San Juan

5. Santa Fe, New Mexico

32. Baltimore

Intelligent people

1. Portland, Oregon

2. Seattle

3. Minneapolis/St. Paul

4. Washington, D.C.

5. Austin

29. Baltimore

Attractive people

1. Portland, Oregon

2. Seattle

3. Minneapolis/St. Paul

4. Washington, D.C.

5. Austin

34. Baltimore

For complete survey results, go to travelandleisure.com.

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