* This post is shared with localslowtravel.com
The 2014 meeting of the World Heritage Committee has been held recently in Doha. All together, there were 26 new sites added to the World Heritage lists (natural, cultural and mixed), bringing the total of sites to 1007 in 161 countries. This is a wonderful achievement.
One of the very important things about world heritage listing is the concept of ‘outstanding universal value’. To be accepted sites must have importance and value which is beyond that of the individual country – it must have global importance.
This implies that there is a responsibility of national governments to protect these sites for the global community – for all people. And this in turn implies that the global community has a responsibility to ensure these sites are protected. Sometimes this global responsibility can be in the form of support to countries through technical expertise in management, or support for education and training etc. A variety of possibilities are available and are used.
There is a component to ‘responsibility’ that is important to highlight – the responsibilities which go with travel and tourism in the World Heritage sites. It’s not uncommon for the technical assessments of the sites to have a component dealing with likely tourism impacts and the capacity of countries to manage them in a sustainable and equitable way, including equity in terms of local people’s rights, benefits and costs. The management of tourism however, shouldn’t become an important consideration only for the relevant (often multiple) agencies within the country where the site is. There is a burden of responsibility for us as tourists and travelers to and within sites.
As travelers, we need to be aware of our impacts and our contributions. This should be a given.
However, World Heritage adds extra dimensions to this responsibility and this ethical understanding of our travel. This is because World Heritage sites are often fragile – and the fact that they have the label ‘World Heritage site’ means they by definition will become more attractive to travelers. Consequently, there will often need to be tourism management systems and institutions added, tightened, refocused. This will often reap economic benefits but for us, we need to understand who gets those benefits and most importantly who bears the costs of our travels. We need to understand this to make sure we support the concept of World Heritage not just as a site, but as living landscapes, cultural-scapes and political-scapes that can be altered by we travelers.