Skift Take

Big attractions that rest on their laurels can quickly become tired cliches that future travelers drop from their bucket lists.

When VisitBritain released the results of a recent survey to determine what their visitors wanted to do most, the data offered the chance for an interesting comparison: How does a pre-trip list of most-wanted attractions compare with TripAdvisor’s ranking of the same attractions by travelers who’ve just been there?

In other words, how does perception fare against reality?

The VisitBritain survey was completed by 10,000 potential visitors from 19 countries and made available at the end of 2013. The attraction that topped travelers’ UK bucket list was Buckingham Palace. Second place was split between viewing London from above the Shard and London Eye. Third place belonged to Edinburgh Castle.

On TripAdvisor, the London Eye currently ranks 94th, the View from the Shard ranks 151st and Buckingham Palace ranks 121st. Oh, and that’s just among the 1,085 attractions in London, not all of Britain. Edinburgh ranked a bit higher: 20th. But again, that’s 20th out of the 204 attractions in Edinburgh, not Britain.

Is this phenomenon unique to London? Not really, but there are exceptions. Predictably, the attractions with the most reviews on TripAdvisor are the ones that get the most visitors. There are very few attractions that receive both the most reviews and the highest ranking, though Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família has the honor of being #1 in both categories.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower and Louvre were the most reviewed, but placed 7th and 8th respectively.

In New York, many iconic attractions appeared further down the list than you might expect. The Statue of Liberty ranked 72nd, The Empire State Building ranked 75th and MoMA ranked 81st out of New York City’s 853 listed attractions. The most-reviewed attraction was Central Park (ranked 8th). What’s currently ranked #1 in the Big Apple? The Frick Collection.

Why the disparity?

Here are two potential reasons:

  1. Some of the top-ranked attractions are smaller tours or venues that may work harder to get top reviews (and possibly even remind their visitors to provide them) and are less likely to get such ratings watered down by the masses.
  2. The things people most want to do are a bit of a disappointment. Between high expectations, high prices, big crowds and attractions resting a little too much on their laurels, it’s a setup for a letdown.

One might argue, the more famous you are, the harder you need to work to meet expectations. That means addressing ticketing, foot flow, the basics (like clean toilets and friendly staff) and bringing the attraction to life.

During a recent visit to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, my kids asked what happens at the famed Cinderella Castle we were about to visit. I said: “I don’t know, but I think you just get your picture taken in front of it.” When we arrived, however, there was a full-throttle musical production underway with what seemed to be Disney’s entire stable of characters, including several I’d never seen before. The kids were impressed.

The idea of bringing an attraction to life (in a brand-aligned capacity) and exceeding expectations is clearly on target. Imagine, for example, if you walked up to the second floor of the Eiffel and instead of just battling crowds for a view, you were treated to a string quartet and a free wine and cheese tasting.

DMOs may not have the budget nor expertise to handle experience management, but it is possible. It just requires attractions and destinations to think differently about their most-loved assets.

Doug Lansky is the Destinations Editor for Skift, an author and travel writer who has been published in publications from The Guardian to National Geographic Traveler, a consultant for destinations, and a speaker at tourism conferences around the world. More at


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Tags: disney, louvre, tripadvisor, visitbritain

Photo credit: The Eiffel Tower is seen under clouds in Paris May 28, 2013. Benoit Tessier / Benoit Tessier / Reuters

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