Telegraph Travel Awards 2007
by HEATHER NEWMAN
When the Telegraph Travel awards were launched almost a decade ago, a baby-faced Blair was beginning his first full year in charge, Bill Clinton was fronting up to his Monica Lewinsky moment, Google was born and girl power was fading after Geri Halliwell left the Spice Girls.
Ten years on, Blair appears on the ex-PM dinner party circuit, Hillary Clinton looks set to follow her husband into office, Google is now so popular it is a verb, and Ginger is back on tour with the Spice Girls. The world has changed, but have the travel tastes of Telegraph Travel readers?
Historically you, the readers of the daily and Sunday titles, have remained incredibly loyal to the destinations, companies and services you trust. Ten years on, Italy is still your favourite European country, and Titan and Kuoni are once again your preferred operators.
Those quintessentially British institutions, The Savoy and Gleneagles, are still your preferred domestic hotels; overseas, it is the style and service of South-East Asian hotels that you most admire; and Singapore Airlines and Emirates, you say, continue to be a step ahead of their rivals - a fact underlined by Singapore's launch of the new A380. If it is this remarkable consistency that gives these awards such credibility, then any change in your opinion carries even more weight.
Australia, which you said in 1998 was your favourite place on earth, may have been overtaken by its Antipodean rival, New Zealand, but the real story lies in the rapid fall from grace of the United States.
In 1998 the US could, in your opinion, only be bettered by Australia. You were among the four million Britons who crossed the Atlantic to enjoy a country that offers a diversity of landscapes and experiences that few others can match. In fact, you told us that France was the only destination where you spent more time.
But then came the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks in 2001. The US government reaction was to tighten its grip on its borders, whatever the cost to tourism. Even today the security process is perceived to be unwelcoming: Telegraph Travel readers have regularly complained about aggressive questioning by over-zealous security staff, "guilty until proven innocent" attitudes, intrusive fingerprinting and lengthy delays.
Others have quipped that the "land of the free" had become the "land of the fee", as a $10 entry charge was imposed on all visitors to pay for security improvements. With the dollar now worth less than 50p, there has never been a better time to go - financially, at least. Yet while global tourism continues its inexorable expansion, the number of visitors to the US has risen by just one per cent in a decade.
Money, it seems, is not enough to buy your love, as the US has disappeared entirely from your shortlist of favourite destinations.
Instead it is sand-between-the-toes luxury that you hanker after - the Maldives with its white sand and turquoise waters finished behind New Zealand as your favourite place on earth. But who can blame you for following the sun after one of the wettest summers on record?
For winter sports enthusiasts it is a similar story. In 1998, the US resorts of Vail and Breckenridge were firm fixtures in your top five. Today, not one US resort makes the shortlist.
US cities have also fallen out of favour. A decade ago, New York and San Francisco were two of your top three cities; now only the Big Apple makes your top 10. Graham Boynton wrote in these pages a fortnight ago of the enduring appeal of New York, but a combination of poor marketing, misguided security measures and mistrust of US foreign policy under George Bush have acted as a counterbalance to the city's obvious attractions.
Hollywood figures such as Robert De Niro have been signed up for expensive marketing campaigns (although perhaps not to extol the virtues of New York's yellow cabs), while new travel industry groups have proposed extensive changes to legislation in order to improve the entry procedure and encourage you back.
It has also been a bad month for Paris. Ongoing strikes marred the launch of the new high-speed Eurostar, rioters have again taken to the streets, and Tokyo has snatched its mantle as gourmet capital of the world (having won more Michelin stars). In less than a decade Paris has gone from being your favourite city to also-ran. With high-speed rail links making it quicker to get to Paris from London than to Manchester, perhaps this is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.
Heading downhill in France for the right reasons, however, are British skiers. Whereas in 1998 snow lovers among you went for the Swiss luxury of St Moritz or the relative wilds of Canada's Banff, today it is the very British alpine enclaves of Val D'Isère and Méribel that you most favour - a remarkable turnaround for the latter, which you voted worst resort in 1998.