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Travelers: Atlanta is mid-pack at best - Curt Yeomans

Well, Travel + Leisure magazine recently posted the results of its 2010 America's Best Cities reader survey on its web site, and it was not pretty for Georgia's capital city.

Readers were asked to rank 35 cities across the country. Atlanta was one of those cities. Last year, the city did not do so well. It only scored decent marks for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. This year, readers were not asked about airports. The city had to rely on how it did in other areas, such as its people, quality of life, cultural activities and historical sites, nightlife, hotels, dining, specialty food establishments, and shopping.

Atlanta ended up ranked mainly between the middle of the pack, and the bottom of the barrel, with only a few bright spots. Its best showing was a No. 8 ranking for hotels, and a No. 10 ranking for barbecue restaurants. Those were the only categories in which the city could crack the top 10.

The worst showings were in the categories of "Safety," "Neighborhood Joints and Cafes," "Family Vacation," "Cultural Getaway" and "Romantic Escape." Visitors ranked it 29th, out of 35 in those categories. The city barely did better in several other categories, including:

* No. 26 rankings in the areas of "Noteworthy Neighborhoods," "Environmental Friendliness," "Farmers' Markets," "Stylish Boutique Hotels," "Microbreweries," "Live Music/Concerts and Bands," "Intelligent People," and "Independent Boutiques."

* No. 27 rankings in the categories of "Cleanliness," "Public Transportation and Pedestrian Friendliness," and "Relaxing Retreat."

* No. 28 rankings in the categories of "People Watching" and "Public Parks and Outdoor Access."

Meanwhile, another Georgia city -- Savannah -- was named best city to visit in the fall, and the city with the best vintage shops and flea markets. It was also ranked as the second best city in the "Romantic Escape," "Neighborhood Joints and Cafes," and "Friendly" categories. And, that's just scraping the ice, because Savannah was a top 10 city in almost every category.

I am beginning to see why, when you go to book stores in other cities, you can find tourism books on several other U.S. cities, but books on Atlanta are next to impossible to find. Maybe, it should take some cues from Savannah.

The cold hard truth here is that people do not consider Atlanta to be a tourism destination. The city was once known for having a tight nightlife scene in Buckhead, and down Peachtree Street into the heart of the city, but the bars have been shoved out. The city was ranked in the bottom half of the ranking for "Singles/Bar Scene" (it was No. 20 in that category, to be exact).

The worst reputation a city can have slapped on it is: "This city has a lousy nightlife scene," because you will basically turn off any young person considering coming to visit. You might even turn off people thinking about moving to the city. They want a vibrant place with stuff to do at all times of the day and night.

When you pile on the perceptions that Atlanta is dirty, unsafe, and has bad public transportation, you have a recipe for tourism disaster. People are not going to want to come to your city, if it has a reputation that is not very appealing.

The City of Atlanta has to fix it. It needs to clean up its streets and buildings. It needs to encourage nightlife to come back to the city. It needs a massive expansion of public transportation going into the surrounding areas, and it needs to stamp out the crime problem.

Otherwise, Atlanta will continue to NOT be one of "America's Best Cities."

To see the full "Travel + Leisure" rankings, go on the Internet, to http://www.travelandleisure.com/.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.