Sometimes I think of myself as a shopkeeper. My shelves are packed with destinations, mostly cities, but I have a small section reserved for truly out-of-the-way places that only a few adventurers and colonies of penguins seem to have discovered.
It would be simple to say that I need to know the worthwhile sightseeing stops in all of the major cities along the tourist routes. But that has rapidly changed. Clients are looking for things to do and things to see, but they are all, it seems to me, in search of something else. They want to discover the best places in the world, the places where, in their dreams, they might actually move some day.
American travelers will still want to see developing nations. Have you really seen the world, I often ask, if you haven't seen India? Travelers will stick their toes in bits of poverty off their cruise ships or as part of an extensive land tour. But increasingly, American travelers want to go where things just seem to work well and the standard of living seems to support a lifestyle that we might emulate.
I don't believe that anyone has yet coined a phrase to capture this desire, but it permeates my conversations with clients. Our clients have come to realize that not everything is perfect in our society. We are no longer No. 1 in everything, if we ever were. Our period of arrogance has ended, and we are now, as travelers, open to seeing places where things seem to be on track.
Some of the most successful trips we've planned in recent years have taken our clients to destinations that might possibly be places they might aspire to settle in, cities that are among the most livable on Earth.
Nothing will help this country more than an increase in the number of citizens who have returned from travels to some of the world's most livable cities. We need to observe how these cities handle crowds and traffic, the way they care for their citizens' health care needs, the manner in which they provide education to all their residents and the way they discourage the growth of crime.
I've been particularly interested in the 2015 Ranking of "Quality of Life" in 140 cities around the world produced by Economist magazine's Economist Intelligence Unit. This annual report has far-reaching implications for sellers of travel as it uses a wide range of statistical analyses to examine the quality of life in cities that "people might want to live in or visit."
This report is a virtual map to the places on Earth that will most likely impress our clients and set them to thinking about the wonderful "what if I could live in ...?" dimension of travel.
The report also evaluates the very worst places on Earth for a vacation. I think we can dismiss this portion of the report rather quickly. It would seem that any agent in your office who is recommending vacations in Damascus, Syria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; Lagos, Nigeria; or Tripoli, Libya, needs to get out on more fams. Or perhaps it would just be better if they went into real estate.
The Economist Intelligence Unit's rankings include statistical measures of stability such as crime and terrorism, health care, culture and environment, which includes subjects as diverse as climate, corruption, sports, education and infrastructure. Stability and infrastructure are somewhat more heavily weighted in the findings than other categories.
Sadly, cities within the U.S. have "largely seen decline" as a result of low scores in health care, education, crime and infrastructure.
I've escorted tours to several of the world's top five "most liveable" cities, and I clearly recall that spontaneous discussions would often arise among my clients about how easily they could see themselves moving to these places.
Two cities were in a statistical tie for fifth place, so we will note the top six cities in the world -- five of which are in Australia and Canada.
Melbourne, Australia, the Aussies' best-kept secret, was named the world's most livable city. It has a laid-back population, San Francisco-style views and a youthful vitality that made me want to stay. Perhaps for years.
In third place was Vancouver, British Columbia, followed by Adelaide, Australia, the least known city on the list to average American travelers, and finally Calgary, Alberta.
Only one city in Europe made the list: the eminently livable city of my ancestors, Vienna. And that is not just due to the pastry display in the window at Demel's.
It is important for cruisers down the Danube to realize that they will be visiting the world's second most livable city. Visitors to Australia need to understand that Melbourne is considered to be the "cultural capital" of Australia, with high scores in health care for all citizens and a wide range of social safety nets.
Adelaide, for its part, has become a highly fashionable restaurant town, with new luxury boutique properties and high employment accompanied by low crime rates.
So Australia is not about just a quick stop in Sydney.
It should surprise no one that our neighbor to the north has three of the world's six most livable cities. They are accessible, and they are affordable, and we should all be cheerleaders for their achievements. While many of our major cities are in a state of serious decline, their major cities are, on a purely statistical basis, three of the Earth's finest places in which to dwell.
Vancouver is, of course, the most beautiful city in North America. How sad that so many of our clients see it only as a cruise ship embarkation point. It has the third largest film industry in North America and an incredibly healthy tech startup scene. It is also a textbook for multiculturalism, with fine dining in ethnic neighborhoods that justify a vacation solely on the basis of their epicurean quality.
You know Toronto's many charms, but few realize it has become one of the world's leading fashion centers or that 56% of the city's employees hold post-secondary degrees.
With the possible exception of its famed Stampede rodeo gala, Calgary is beautiful and largely unknown to U.S. tourists, but as the Economist Intelligence Unit study points out, Calgary is a financial, film and TV production center. It also has the highest per capita income of Canada's major cities.
There are a great many small surprises in the research. Budapest, another key embarkation point for river cruises, is the only city in Eastern Europe to make the list of the World's Fifty Most Livable Cities. Milan has the highest livability score in Italy, but Madrid is ahead of it, and Barcelona ranks ahead of Madrid.
Paris' rating has declined in recent years while Lyon has moved up substantially. The two are virtually tied in terms of overall quality of life. Zurich and Helsinki are in the top 10.
Visitors to Germany might note that seldom-visited Hamburg tops all German cities in terms of standard of living.
Cities in China are slowly moving up the list, due largely to "declines across China in the threat of civil unrest."
It is interesting that after Australia and Canada, the most livable places on Earth tend to be cities in northern Europe like Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm.
There are many reasons why we encourage our clients to travel abroad. Seeing cities where urban planning is successful and where the quality of life is reflected in the status of the general population is still another reason to travel and to experience the world's most livable destinations.