The Sunday News
WORLD Heritage sites present wonderful opportunities for tourism, which in turn contribute immensely to the economic development of nations or communities where they are located.
Whether natural or cultural, these sites provide a window for people to explore and appreciate better the historic, cultural or scientific phenomena associated with them. Tourism presents, to world heritage sites, an opportunity and also a threat. The inscription of a site as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage site comes with greater publicity, and recognition across the globe, which generates more interest to visit and explore it.
The site automatically makes it to the bucket list of many a tourist. That increased interest and subsequent visitors means increased revenue that can give a boost to heritage management thrusts. This is particularly important given that lack of adequate funding has presented challenges to the effectiveness of heritage management in many countries.
However, mass tourism also poses grave threats to the preservation of heritage property, which could adversely affect the value of such sites. World Heritage sites do not only serve as tourist attractions but they are also significant for research and education.
To the local communities, these sites are their pride and a priceless source of inspiration and connection with their cultural or natural history. The recognition of a site as a World Heritage site, therefore elevates a people’s pride and confidence in who they are and naturally they would feel greatly honoured to host the world and present their heritage.
However, if tourism activities are perceived by locals as promoting abuse of spaces, commodification of sacred heritage property, introduction of alien practices and resource exploitation, that breeds tremendous tension.
It is a proven fact worldwide that without the support, co-operation and goodwill of the local community, heritage management and tourism activities are frustrated and are generally much less successful than they would be with the local community on board.
They are a critical stakeholder and they need to feel recognised and respected.
Utmost prudence should therefore be exercised in the management of tourism at those sites.
Policies need to be put in place to ensure sustainability of tourism activities at World Heritage sites and that the heritage property is not damaged or diminished in whatever manner as a result of tourism.
This usually presents a challenge manifesting in a clash between the heritage conservation interest and the tourism promotion interest both at policy and operational levels.
The heritage manager naturally is more interested in securing the site and preserving its scientific or cultural value while on the other hand, the tourism promoter is happier seeing more and more people visiting the site.
While both are pushing noble agendas, the best-case scenario here would be a balancing act where the policies talk to each other to achieve sustainability by providing managed access to the sites by the public.
On that note Unesco runs a sustainable tourism programme that seeks to promote a new approach premised “on dialogue and stakeholder co-operation where planning for tourism and heritage management is integrated at destination level, the natural and cultural assets are valued and protected, and appropriate tourism developed”.
Tourism management at World Heritage sites calls for a holistic approach from planning to execution and the heritage property should be valued such that any activity carried within its environs should be “heritage friendly”.
The extent of tourism activity should be controlled for sustainability and the management cycle should allow for recuperation of diminished value where possible.
Phineas Chauke is a Bulawayo-based Tourism Consultant, Marketer and Tour -Guide. Contact him on mobile: +263776058523, email: [email protected]