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The secret decision-making behind ‘best-of’ travel lists – and why they always seem to get it wrong

The secret decision-making behind ‘best-of’ travel lists – and why they always seem to get it wrong

It’s that time of year again. “These are the destinations to visit in 2024,” trumpet the world’s travel publications, spinning the bingo cage of nations and emptying out 10 or so contenders. Over the years these lists have gone from something lighthearted – a handful of snapshots for your next holiday inspiration – to something more complex and layered.

Sub-categories were added: best for sustainability, best for families, best value. Some titles began cramming five or six small-scale choices (this national park, that third city) into one entry. The madness culminated with this year’s Lonely Planet list, which (to mark 50 years of the brand) namechecks 50 locations we must visit in 2024. Fifty! That’s more countries than some of us will get to in a lifetime. Meanwhile, National Geographic published 30. It hardly helps narrow down our two holidays for the next calendar year.

A cynic might look at a list like Lonely Planet’s and think: there’s a formula here. Take a handful of ever-adventurous destinations, stir in a couple of commercial favourites (Mexico, St Lucia), one you’ve barely heard of (Benin) – and chuck in one attainable European number (Croatia) so we can feel good about at least having a chance of getting to one of them next year.

France gets a shout-out due to the Paris Olympics

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“There’s definitely a formula,” says one ex-travel editor, who would rather not be named. “I can always spot the cooler-than-thou destination, and the desperate filler entry – two hotels are opening there, you say?” One UK-specific pick, they say, to include a traditionally unglamorous domestic location in order to generate local media headlines: “Blackpool is better than the Maldives, say travel experts!”

Naming no names, I’ve certainly worked on glossy mags where the lists have been drawn up in a suitably arbitrary fashion (“we need a Scandi one… I dunno, Norway?!”… “Nah, we had that last year”…).

In fairness, Lonely Planet eschews the “formula” accusation, saying that its hotlist is voted for by “their global community of staff, local writers, and publishing partners”. “Our picks for this year seek to both inspire and follow the instincts of 2024’s traveller,” said Nitya Chamber, SVP content and executive editor, on…

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