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City of Angels? Newsletter's Traveling Readers Think Not

Poll: Hideaway respondents name least and most favorite destinations. They love San Francisco and Venice, Italy, but hate Detroit and Mexico City.

August 11, 1996|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

And now, the itinerary from hell, as conceived by some of America's most discerning travelers. First stop: Detroit; followed by Newark; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Manila; Naples; and Lagos, Nigeria. Last stop: uh, Los Angeles.

And the itinerary from heaven? For now, let's just say that it begins, as so many travelers' daydreams do, about 400 miles north of Los Angeles.

All these judgments are found in a new poll of most- and least-favorite places by the monthly newsletter Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report. The tallies, disclosed in the July issue, are the result of responses from 1,500 of the upscale newsletter's presumably discerning readers, who were given blank ballots and asked to name three favorite cities in North America, three in Europe, three elsewhere and three least favorites worldwide (from which we constructed our hellish itinerary). No explanations were sought; few were volunteered. The result, as the surveyors intended, is an entertaining argument-starter.

One hundred and twelve readers wrote to say they didn't like Detroit; none liked it. Newark, San Juan, Manila, Naples and Lagos also got unanimously negative reviews, but fewer of them; each was mentioned by fewer than 50 respondents.

Then there was L.A., admired by 126 travelers, unloved by 254--more than any other city in the world--which in the newsletter's scoring system yielded an approval rating of 33.2%. (New York, which many might expect to inspire a similarly conflicted response, did far better. Of 990 travelers who mentioned the city, 82.6% gave a thumbs-up.)

There were several other cities, however, that drew widespread disapproval: Tokyo, Atlanta Cairo, Dallas, Athens, Frankfurt, Miami, Houston and Mexico City all drew more negative than positive mentions.

Keep in mind that the Hideaway Report isn't exactly the Daily Worker. The publishers are fond of noting the high number of CEOs among their 20,000 subscribers, and surveys put the median annual income of subscribers at $350,000 per year. The publishers, a secretive group with offices in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Whitefish, Mont., keep the proprietor's real name under wraps so that he can wander the world in anonymity, passing judgment as he goes.

The city that Harper's readers loved best, as you may have guessed, is San Francisco, which drew 1,112 mentions, 99.5% positive.

It was followed by Vancouver (116 mentions, 99.1% positive), and Cape Town (90 mentions, 98.9% positive). Running next: Sydney (315 mentions, 98.7% positive), Jerusalem (70 mentions, 98.6% positive), Kyoto (66 mentions, 98.5% positive), Florence (336 mentions, 98.2% positive), London (1,070 mentions, 98.1% positive), Venice (301 mentions, 98% positive) and Boston (327 mentions, 97.8% positive).

"One that surprised me was Sydney," says the newsletter's associate publisher, who does business under the name Richard Harper. "Maybe if you build a funny-looking opera house, people will come."

That Cape Town and Kyoto did so well among U.S. travelers, he added, shows how small the world is becoming.

The balloting was close. An additional 10 cities drew approval from more than 90% of the respondents who mentioned them: Seattle, Santa Fe, San Diego, Hong Kong, Chicago, Paris, Buenos Aires, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Vienna.

And though these respondents clearly aren't Mr. and Ms. John Q. Public, their choices hint at the decisions American travelers might make if money weren't much of an object. And certain broad American tastes seem to show through in this list. For instance:

American tourists like English-speaking destinations most, even the ones where terrorists may strike. Of the top 20 cities named by Harper's readers, 12 were predominantly English-speaking, and in a pair of others, Jerusalem and Hong Kong, English is widely used. Terrorism notwithstanding, London and Jerusalem both pulled approval rates more than 98%.

American tourists like the waterfront. Maybe this is a trait of all tourists everywhere, but it's still interesting. Each of the top four cities lies on coastline, and of the following six, one (Venice) lies on the sea, another lies within 30 miles of it (Kyoto) and three (Florence, London and Boston) feature major rivers. In other words, if Jerusalem had a beach, we might all be there right now.

American tourists are still nervous about South America and Africa. Despite the natural and cultural wonders on those continents, and despite the stabilization of many South American governments over the last decade and the new leadership in South Africa, many travelers apparently still consider the logistics of getting there, the health risks and the social instability on those continents too great. Of the respondents' top 20 cities, only Cape Town and Buenos Aires lay in Africa or South America. (Rio de Janeiro drew 70 mentions and a 62.9% rating. Nairobi, one of Africa's most populous cities, was almost invisible, at fewer than 50 mentions.)

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053; telephone (213) 237-7845.

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