The National Geographic just completed its annual review of 111 island tourist destinations, using a perspective of geo-tourism, sustainability, and a panel of 522 experts. South Padre was not on the list, perhaps not an omission so much as they considered only 111 islands of the entire world. One of their conclusions was that islands blessed with good beaches tended to be do less well over time, primarily due to development; multiple cruise ships were also seen as a cause of an island losing its identity. As such these more crowded islands with nice beaches tended to score poorly … and by corollary were viewed as being less sustainable.
Scoring used a 100-point system with the top destination rating 87 (Faroe Islands, authentic and sustainable) to a low of 37 (Saint Thomas, in serious trouble, unsustainable). Of the several U.S. islands reviewed many were in the low 60’s (already in moderate trouble). Interestingly, the two beach islands similar to SPI, Ocracoke in North Carolina and Sanibel in Florida, scored in the 60’s. However, one doubts that SPI could match the success seen in Sanibel Island, as the review comments suggest:
"Sanibel has tried to distinguish itself from the rampant development of the rest of the west coast of Florida and has been fairly successful with height restrictions and setbacks. However, every year it gets just a little more crowded and challenging. The Ding Darling Refuge is a treasure."
"Back in the 1970s, the passing of the Sanibel Plan attempted to limit development and promote sustainability. Like everything else in Florida, Sanibel has been sorely compromised, but it has more integrity than most developed islands."
"Restaurants are along the roads, with air conditioning and closed windows, serving chicken wings, rather than by the sea, open air, and offering seafood."
"Sanibel has done a great job in spite of many disadvantages. It still has good environmental features, some social/cultural integrity, and aesthetic appeal.” [Emphasis added]
Key West scored one of the lowest on the list at 46, primarily due to “cruise travel, overdevelopment, coastal construction, and marine-based recreation …." But even Key West was praised for saving its historic structures and not having too many tourist “kitsch” shops and T-shirt shops. That begs the question of how SPI would score if the National Geographic reviewers came to our island.
I think our town leaders should be concerned over this, since the kind of tourist we’d like to market to don’t get their clues from the Travel Channel but rather from more reliable sources such as National Geographic. When Block Island, Rhode Island scored in the 70's it was a cause for celebration - only one other island in the U.S. scored higher (80, Mackinack Island, Michigan).