This year, the Holy City moves up the ranks in Condé Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards for Top U.S. City. Last year, it was No. 2; this year, it's No. 1.
Tourism runs this town, so it's always good news when Charleston gets top marks for its hotels and attractions — especially from a major national publication. TV personality and native son Stephen Colbert presented the award at a ceremony in New York Monday night, recalling in his speech how he "earned pocket change helpfully pointing out the house where Rhett Butler grew up" during his childhood. In all seriousness, though, he said, "I've been all over the world, and Charleston is the most beautiful city I've ever seen."
Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, traveled to New York to receive the award along with Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Golf Resort. She says the people who filled out the Condé Nast survey are well-traveled and “have something to say,” even during a down economy.
“It’s more than discounts,” Hill says. “I think it’s the value of what they receive.” She says that Charleston has always scored well for friendliness — earning a 2010 nod as Friendliest City in America from Travel + Leisure — but a growing crop of award-winning restaurants and hotels has put the city over the top.
The Readers' Choice Awards, which will be featured in the November issue (hitting newsstands Oct. 25), are based on a survey of over 27,000 readers. Charleston first showed up on the list of Top U.S. Destinations in 1993 with a sixth-place ranking, and the city placed in the top five for 14 consecutive years from 1997 to 2010. This year, the top five cities were:
2. San Francisco, Calif.
3. Santa Fe, N.M.
4. Chicago, Ill.
5. Honolulu, Hawaii
Other winners include:
• Kiawah Island Golf Resort (No. 3 - Top U.S. Islands and No. 3 - Top Mainland U.S. Resorts)
• French Quarter Inn (No. 15 - Top U.S. Hotels)
• Charleston Place (No. 30 - Top U.S. Hotels)
• Planters Inn (No. 52 - Top U.S. Hotels)
• Market Pavilion (No. 62 - Top U.S. Hotels)
• John Rutledge House Inn (No. 16 - Top U.S. Small Hotels)
• Wentworth Mansion (No. 17 - Top U.S. Small Hotels)
• Wild Dunes Resort (No. 121 - Top Mainland U.S. Resorts)
The Charleston Area CVB has launched a website called CharlestONLY.com that features special packages at the eight local resorts and hotels that won mentions in the Readers' Choice contest.