The world's most appealing destinations—islands—are the ones most prone to tourism overkill. Our 522 experts vote on which ones avoid the danger, which are succumbing to it, and which hang in the balance.
Tourism is a phenomenon that can cook your food or burn your house down. In other words, we all risk destroying the very places that we love the most.
Nowhere more so than on islands. Islands symbolize vacation. Escape! Their very insularity makes them more attractive than a comparable piece of real estate on the mainland. They are worlds unto themselves—their own traditions, ecosystems, cultures, landscapes. That's what attracts us. But as micro-worlds, islands are also more vulnerable to population pressure, climate change, storm damage, invasive species, and now, tourism overkill.
To see how the integrity of islands around the world is holding up, Traveler and our National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations conducted this fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey, aided by George Washington University. A panel of 522 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship donated time to review conditions in these 111 selected islands and archipelagos. The scores that follow reflect the experts' opinions. Quoted phrases from their remarks suggest the thinking behind the scores.
The results show that beach-blessed islands draw sun-and-sand resort tourism development that can get out of hand quickly, although there are exceptions. Multiple cruise-ship crowds can also overwhelm an island, transforming it.
No surprise, then, that cloudy, beach-poor islands score well. Yet even these cooler islands are sometimes losing traditional families to soaring real estate prices.
All the islands that follow, even the lowest scoring, have great experiences to discover. To protect them, to restore them, we must value them as much as resort developers and cruise companies do. Even more.
Guide to the Scores:
0-25: Catastrophic: all criteria very negative, outlook grim.
26-49: In serious trouble.
50-65: In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives.
66-85: Minor difficulties.
86-95: Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.