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Local news — St. Thomas

Aug. 14, 2003 - The territory's northern islands fared well in an online poll asking readers to name the location of their favorite beaches in the United States.
While Florida locales dominated, taking five of the 10 top spots, the Virgin Islands held its own against rival destination Hawaii, with each placing twice in the list. The other top-ranked locale was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Yahoo! Travel and National Geographic Traveler magazine teamed up in May to conduct the survey, which attracted 2,208 responses, according to the report on the Yahoo! Travel Web page.
The survey results also appear in the July/August issue of National Geographic Traveler, which is published eight times a year and bills itself as the world's most widely read travel magazine.
The top vote getters, in order:

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1. Miami, Florida
2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
3. Panama City, Florida
4. Waikiki, Hawaii
5. Tampa Bay, Florida
6. St. Thomas
7. Key West, Florida
8. Kaanapali, Hawaii
9. St. John
10. Naples, Florida
The prize all 10 "winners" get, of course, is the kind of exposure that money can buy, but it's sure nice to get for free instead. The Yahoo! site provides links to comprehensive travel guide pages for each of the 10 locations. Unfortunately, you get the identical V.I. Travel Guide page for both St. Thomas and St. John. So much for destination marketing. On the other hand, this way St. Croix gets promoted, too.
The V.I. site includes a "slide show" of 17 inviting images of all three islands, many of them beach and marine scenes, by St. John photographer Steve Simonsen.
On the main poll report page, there's a dreamy seascape photo showing semi-mountainous islands on the horizon. It can't be anywhere in Florida or Myrtle Beach, where hills are as scarce as hailstones. Assuming the picture was taken at one of the 10 destinations, that means there's a 50/50 chance with Hawaii that it's a V.I. scene. There's no caption to say, and it could be a generic stock shot from Tahiti or Madagascar, but who cares?
The poll found that 90 percent of respondents "definitely" or "very likely" would be heading for one beach or another in the coming year. Beaches were by far the biggest draw cited in terms of vacation plans, cited by 74 percent. City destinations ranked a distant second with 11.4 percent, followed by national parks and mountains.
Asked what the most important factors were in their choice of favorite beach, with multiple responses allowed, the respondents ranked cleanliness highest (56 percent), followed by scenery/panorama (55 percent), climate (42 percent), water temperature (32 percent) and romantic environment (21 percent).
As for favorite beach activities, again with multiple responses allowed, while going in the water might seem a given, only 51 percent cited that. Meanwhile, 47 percent cited drinking alcohol, 46 percent said building sand castles, 43 percent said having a party or barbecue, 27 percent said having sex and 21 percent said flying a kite.
(This was an unscientific survey with what in the polling business is called "self-selected respondents." You took part if you felt like it, and you could get all your buddies to do the same, and who's to know who's telling the truth? But at the very least, the views of 2,208 respondents are interesting. And publicity is publicity.)
The territory's stateside publicity agency, Martin Public Relations, noted in a release issued on Monday that Keith Bellows, National Geographic Traveler editor-in-chief, recently talked up the survey findings in a television interview carried on several Fox Network affiliates.
Bellows also commented: "With Americans driving to their vacation destinations more than ever, it is not surprising that many of the top picks were Florida beaches, which are easy to drive to from many regions across the country."
The Yahoo! site offers this appeal to folks unfamiliar with the territory: "If you've never been to the West Indies and aren't sure what you're after, the U.S. Virgin Islands might be a good place to start: It's the closest thing to a Caribbean sampler that we've come across, providing several different island experiences in one territory."
And, it says, "Travelers who enjoy shopping, some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, protected tropical habitats and excellent snorkeling and diving will enjoy the U.S. Virgin Islands."
The information provided is a bit out of date for those who know the islands well, though, with its statement that "those seeking seclusion or a landscape free of Burger Kings and Radio Shacks should restrict their stay to St. John."

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