Not Loving That Dirty Water

The way we feel about our city is the way we feel about a quirky relative. We can make fun of it as much as we want, but no one else is allowed to take shots. The latest publication to incite our fierce local pride is Conde Nast Traveller, whose readers ranked Boston as their 10th favorite city in America. Which doesn’t sound bad, until you consider that Boston used to rank much higher.

So what’s wrong?

“Boston’s had an image problem,” said Linda L. Lowry, an associate professor of tourism and hospitality at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “The Big Dig hasn’t helped. . . . Hotel prices have gone up and up.”Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city doesn’t deserve the bum rap.

“This city is happening,” he said. “Things are happening.”

City Hall may tout that “It’s all right here,” but the 60,000 travelers who filled out an “America’s Favorite Cities” poll released this month by CNN and Travel + Leisure apparently felt differently.

No wonder tourists have a negative perception–those slogans are awful. “It’s all right here?” Why not just say “Boston: You might have a few laughs”? And Menino should be able to rattle off a few specifics about what’s happening in the city. We have a new building for our modern art museum. Our sports teams kick ass. We have great shopping. Come on, Mr. Mayor, do a little PR for us.

And due to our superior intelligence (travelers perceive us as the third most intelligent city), we noticed an interesting discrepancy between Boston’s tumble in the rankings and the actual numbers of tourists.

It’s not that tourists aren’t coming to Boston. In fact, more come each year, with 18.8 million visiting in 2006, according to the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

So we’re seen as mean and unattractive, but people still come here in droves. Either our tourists are masochists, or Conde Nast Traveller had a sample of tourists who came here in February. Not that there’s much difference between the two.