SOUTH CAROLINA: Conde Nast Names Charleston Top U.S. City for 8th Consecutive Year

Eight years and counting, Charleston is Condé Nast Traveler’s top U.S. tourist destination.

The pineapple fountain at Joe Riley Waterfront Park is one of the peninsula’s signature sites. Charleston was named the No. 1 travel destination among small U.S. cities by readers of Condé Nast Traveler for the eighth year in a row. File/Andrew Whitaker/Staff

The magazine announced the winners of its 31st annual Readers’ Choice Awards Tuesday morning and, once again, the Holy City ranked No. 1 in its small cities category, which includes places with populations of less than 1 million.

Though Charleston tops its list in the small cities category, the city “punches like a giant,” the magazine wrote on its website. “The city’s roots may be its rich Southern history, but Charleston stands fully in the now.”

Greenville, which ranked third on the list last year, came in at No. 9, one spot behind Asheville, and Savannah moved up from sixth to fill this year’s third-place slot.

“Travelers today have more options than ever,” said Michael Tall, board vice chair at Explore Charleston, also known as the Charleston Area Convention & Visitor Bureau. The group is “both honored and humbled,” he said, that the Holy City continues to receive top honors year after year.

Nearly half a million survey responses were gathered on the Condé Nast Traveler website this spring, according to the New York-based publication.

Cities’ rankings were based on their cumulative scores, which come from survey respondents’ ratings for categories like arts and culture, sights and scenery, public transportation, hotels and resorts, restaurants and friendliness.

Charleston received a cumulative score of 90.23 this year, up a hair from last year’s grade of 90.15.

This year “was all about comfort,” according to the magazine. Travelers stayed closer to home and favored smaller, subtler properties.

On its list of large international cities, Japan took the top two spots, with Tokyo coming in first and Kyoto second. Chicago beat out New York in its list of large U.S. cities, with New Orleans rounding out the top three.

This year is the fourth that Charleston has been named the top small city in the country but the eighth it’s earned No. 1 honors from the magazine. Before 2015, Condé Nast’s top U.S. cities were not divided by size, and Charleston took the top spot overall for four years prior.

Charleston’s list-topping success reaches beyond its Condé Nast Traveler streak, too.

Readers of Southern Living picked Charleston as the South’s best city this spring, and, in July, Travel + Leisure Magazine named Charleston its No. 1 U.S. city for the sixth year in row. Charleston was the only U.S. city to make the cut for Travel + Leisure’s list of the World’s Top 15 Cities, coming in at No. 10.

Explore Charleston CEO Helen Hill noted the importance of tourism for the city’s economy, calling it the “foundation of our region’s prosperity.”

Tourism has an annual economic impact on the region of about $7.4 billion, according to research from the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis.

The office’s director, Daniel Guttentag, said that, though yearly top rankings may taken for granted by locals, the attention is reinforcing visitors’ positive perceptions of the city.

“I have little doubt that it continues to be beneficial in attracting tourists,” Guttentag said.

National publicity has also attracted more carriers to Charleston International Airport, said Paul Campbell, CEO of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.

“Airlines note the consistent recognition this area receives,” Campbell said. “We continue to see new carriers enter the market, existing partners expand service and fares decline.”

The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant was also recognized, ranking No. 2 on the magazine’s list of top Southern resorts.

A complete list of awards can be found on Condé Nast Traveler’s website, and winners will be published in its November issue, which hits newsstands Oct. 16.