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Discussion on World Heritage and Tourism

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There is certainly complex and longstanding relationship between World Heritage and tourism. As tourism being mentioned only once amongst the 38 articles of the 1972 “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World cultural and natural Heritage” (UNESCO 1972) it has been very true in the day-to-day practice of site management as well as long underpinned how World Heritage Sites are perceived, encountered and experienced in the wider social and political perspectives. More than over 40 years and more since the Convention, consideration of tourism as an active variable in the production and consumption of World Heritage has shifted from being implicit, to being ever-more explicit in both policy and practice.

There are of course numerous sites on world heritage List in India and abroad which, for tourism importance not only the reasons of protection, daily management, or issues of physical and perceptual access, do not attract significant numbers of tourists. The designation of world heritage status may fall upon sites, particularly urban sites, which already have some degree of tourist activity. However, it is difficult to think of world Heritage Sites, without imagining swarms of tourists taking photographs, lines of parked tour buses and attendant souvenir stalls etc. Any type of tourist those are arriving at a World Heritage Site is confront by the realities of tourism; significant numbers of tourists along with a service sector which has developed in scale and scope to meet the needs of the temporary but recurrent tourist population. Beyond the sign of the long term attrition of physical fabric and litter, there could be markers of excess tourists immediately visible. The negative impact of the tourism tends to be cumulative and hidden, revealing themselves rather more subtly through price inflation, community displacement and acculturation. More directly and visible is the process of infrastructure developments associated with tourism development and while not necessarily within the boundaries of World Heritage Sites it has been argued that they can impact on the quality of the site (Leask and Fyall 2006)[72]. Within the tourism literature considerable attention has been given to studies which exemplify the problems that tourism can, and does, pose to the physical fabric of cultural and natural heritage sites and to the socio-cultural wellbeing of nearby local communities. Such kind of tourism studies have fed, and are fed by, pervasive discourse which suggests that tourism is de facto, a threat to World Heritage. Impacts of tourism may whatever their extent are assessed, measured and managed, wider geo-political questions are raised regarding the category of World Heritage Sites itself and whether there is indeed some degree of causality between site designation and ability to attract tourists. “World heritage are not homogeneous and their management is not monolithic” (Bourdeau, Gravari-barbas and Robinson 2011; Di Giovine 2009). They are certainly differing considerably in term of their reputation, the extent of the tourism flows around them and the extent to which the state and related actors contribute (Ashworth and Van der Aa 2006). It is this diversity in the face of the uniformity of production, and production at nexus between the global and local, which creates and interesting ‘heritages cape’ (Di Giovine 2009) and interesting field of research (Djament-tran, Fagnoni and Jacquot 2012).

The existence of entanglements between tourism and World Heritage are in evidence across the marketing and communication network that pervade the developed and developing world. Many kinds of destinations, whether it is national or regional scale, privilege “World Heritage” amongst their inventories of attractions to visit, in action of genuine pride of nation but also in the knowledge that they carry an additional appeal for the tourist market. The tour operators devise their routes and itineraries to include World Heritage Sites as highlights and there are operators that specialized in packaging World Heritage sites as its centered itineraries. The British-based company Hurlingham Travel offers what it presents as the “World’s Most Expensive Vacation” (at $1.5 million) to see all of the World Heritage Sites in “luxury”, cutting through some 157 countries. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) itself plays to realities of the iconic role of World Heritage Sites in national tourism marketing campaigns and frequently carries advertisements for country destinations in its World Heritage Magazine that frame world heritage sites and landscape not only as having particular values and that require protection, but as travel worth place for tourists to visit. UNESCO is caught up in the dilemma of promoting World Heritage Sites whilst at the same time seeking their protection from the excesses of tourism. In 2008 for instance UNESCO collaborated in the publication of the popular promotional guide 1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die (Cavendish 2008), which while offering a Preface by the then Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura warning of the dangers of poorly managed tourism, nonetheless provided a highly visible promotional message. Guide-books similarly give prominence to World Heritage in their prescriptive narratives of destinations.

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