Rankings of travel destinations are published regularly. Lonely Planet has chosen Sri Lanka and Germany as top destinations for 2019. How should such lists be read?
Superlatives can be problematic. Promising the most beautiful, the biggest or the best almost inevitably guarantees attention. Because with these designations the question of relevance already seems to be answered.
This leads to remarkable stylistic flourishes in the media when it comes to travel and sightseeing. In Germany, for example, the phrase "north of the Alps" is quite common if a superlative is claimed in front of it and a restriction can be hidden in the postscript.
Rankings are marketing
As is so often the case, it depends on the additions and the small print. With the lists of the top travel destinations, for example, it naturally plays a role whether they are based on numbers or surveys or whether the whole thing reflects a subjective, for example editorial selection.
The annual "Best in Travel" list compiled by the influential travel book company "Lonely Planet" is no more and no less than the subjective selection of the publisher that is intended to boost sales of its own book production. Every autumn a new book is published under the title "Best in Travel" and the ranking published at the same time is an important marketing instrument.
A publishing house of this stature also has a reputation to defend. A selection jury represents care and credibility. In addition to self-appointed experts, the legendary founder of the publishing house, Tony Wheeler, also participated in the vote. The 71-year-old actually no longer needs to buckle. He already sold the publishing house he and his wife founded in 1973 after an Asian trip in 2011. In the meantime, Wheeler mainly looks after his foundations, gives lectures and travels around the world.
Surfing in Sri Lanka
So why is Sri Lanka the trendy 2019 travel destination for Lonely Planet? The publisher's statement says the country has reinvented itself almost ten years after the end of the civil war. Better transport links, new hotels, natural landscapes and numerous new activities such as a growing surfer scene are making the destination particularly attractive.
For the government in the capital Colombo, the choice of the top destination for 2019 was indeed a big event. At the press conference, Minister John Amaratunga, responsible for the development of tourism, thanked the publishing house employees in attendance. He said Lonely Planet was an authority on travel and tourism. He added that tourism is an important economic factor for Sri Lanka after 26 years of civil war. Two million tourists came last year and by 2020 that figure is expected to double.
But there are also those who warn against the effects of mass tourism. The marine biologist Sahsa de Vos from Colombo, for example, says that Sri Lanka's natural and cultural heritage is not capable of withstanding a tourist rush.
In Germany, the fact of coming second among the top destinations selected by Lonely Planet for 2019 has attracted less attention. The choice was based primarily on two round anniversaries: the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus.
Germany itself also likes to produce lists to provide orientation and inspiration for people who want to travel here. For years, the German National Tourist Board (GNTB) has asked foreign visitors to Germany to vote on their favorite destination. In contrast to subjective criteria, objective figures are to be determined.
The last list of the top 100 sights featured the miniature wonderland of Hamburg in front of Europapark Rust. Only then did Neuschwanstein Castle follow. Since such votes via the Internet depend above all on the mobilization effort of the companies interested in the result, such a list has a certain surprise potential. In the long run, however, this also seems unsatisfactory; it is neither objective nor to be seen as a well-founded expert assessment. This year, the GNTB decided not to publish its list and is working on a new ranking concept.
The New York Times leads the way
The highlight of the yearly ranking publications with guaranteed interest will come next year. At the beginning of January 2019, the New York Times will publish its "52 places to go" for the 14th time. Sri Lanka has also been featured on it as the top travel tip back in 2010 with a similar rationale as on the Lonely Planet list this year: the end of the civil war, unique natural beauties, great beaches and better hotels.
The most recent top destination for the New York Times by the way was New Orleans. It was also a place that had to cope with a difficult time following Hurricane Katrina and which also had an anniversary to celebrate - the 300th anniversary of the city's foundation.
Lists as a warning
So these lists should not be expected to provide any big surprises. But as a source of inspiration such rankings with 10, 52 or 100 destinations might be useful. In addition, one should perhaps coordinate one's travel plans with one of the now quite popular negative lists. This is how the American travel book publisher "Fodor's" names places every year that it is better not to visit because of mass tourism, environmental pollution or political tensions. The "No List 2018" included Amsterdam, Venice, the Galapagos Islands and Myanmar, for example. So if you're looking to plan a holiday you can be sure that you won't have to wait long for the next list telling you where to go or not to go.