Tourism at UNESCO world heritage sites: protecting global treasures and the travelers who seek them.

Author:Vrabel, Jo Ann

The UNESCO World Heritage Program is a unique collaboration of experts, policy-makers, preservationists, historians, and decision-makers. In November 2012, the Program celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the ratification of its inaugural document, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. What began as an appreciation for cultural and natural heritage is now a network of 1,007 properties of immense universal value. In the past forty years,

the Program has adapted to address many challenges, including war, climate change, limited funding, and religious demonstration. Today, there is a new challenge: how to protect the visitors who, in reliance on the status and international prestige of the World Heritage Program, travel thousands of miles to experience World Heritage Sites. In order to solidify the future of the World Heritage Program, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage should revise its requirements for inscription and continued status as a World Heritage Site to include visitor safety regulations. Additionally, the World Heritage Program should partner with international tourism agencies in order to proactively address baseline protection and management practices at the Sites. This anniversary is a reminder of the World Heritage Program's ongoing commitment to preserving and presenting cultural and natural sites, and should serve as an opportunity to further its efforts in achieving its goals for this generation and many to come.

CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. BACKGROUND A. The Structure of the World Heritage Program B. Case Studies 1. Vietnam i. Ha Long Bay Boating Incidents ii. Criminal Activity at UNESCO Sites in Vietnam 2. Cambodia III. UNESCO'S COMMITMENT TO PRESENTATION A. Achievement of the Convention's Goals B. Reliance on the World Heritage Emblem IV. PROPOSED SOLUTIONS FOR IMPROVING THE CURRENT STATE OF VISITOR MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION MEASURES A. Partnership with United Nations World Tourism Organization B. Revision of the Operational Guidelines C. Modification of Periodic Reporting Requirements V. ` CONCLUSION "A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent (which I cannot deny myself to be without being impious) will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


    The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization ("UNESCO") has formally recognized the need to conserve and protect cultural and natural heritage properties around the world, (1) but it has yet to substantively address the topic of tourist protection. When the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the "Committee"), which exists within UNESCO, recognizes a site's "outstanding universal value" to "mankind as a whole" (2) and decides to inscribe the property to the World Heritage List, an influx of tourists (3) is the natural consequence. (4) Recently, the World Heritage Program, which is administered by the Committee and other bodies, has focused on sustainable tourism. (5) Tourism, however, if unregulated, can have damaging effects on the environment, (6) host societies, (7) and the physical property at World Heritage Sites ("World Heritage Sites" or "Sites"). (8)

    Further, when critiquing the UNESCO World Heritage Program, critics maintain that "the moribund organization is teetering on its once sound foundations as its principles and priorities crumble under the weight of bureaucracy and outside influence." (9) These critics further assert that, "[t]he World Heritage emblem has come to represent a grandiose marketing tool--fodder for 'things to see before you die' coffee table books." (10)

    Unfortunately, critics do not acknowledge the many benefits that the tourism industry has bestowed on World Heritage Sites and State Parties ("State Parties") to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the "Convention"). UNESCO and the State Parties each receive different benefits from the tourism industry. UNESCO fulfills its purpose, as set forth in the Convention's preamble, to "maintain, increase, and diffuse knowledge." (11) When tourists from all walks of life travel to World Heritage Sites, they leave with a heightened appreciation and awareness of the benefits of culture, history, and heritage. State Parties also benefit from the increase of tourism revenue, the availability of external financial assistance, and the opportunity to preserve their heritage and attract experts. (12)

    Given the prominent role that tourism plays in achieving the Convention's goals, this Note posits that both the Committee and State Parties have a duty to protect the tourism industry and tourists. Several factors adversely affect the tourism industry at World Heritage Sites, including criminal activity, scamming, and unstable or hazardous conditions. In some cases, the non-regulation of criminal activity and deficient security measures at World Heritage Sites have had fatal consequences and have consequently led to domestic and international scrutiny. (13) Due to increasing levels of international travel, the Committee and State Parties must immediately address the issue of safeguarding visitors who flock to World Heritage Sites.

    One important way the Committee can proactively address tourist safety is by amending the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (the "Guidelines") to more effectively facilitate the security of tourists at World Heritage Sites. The Guidelines explain (but do not define) that "presentation" is one of the Convention's key objectives." (14) The presentation of the World Heritage Sites, in turn, is greatly impacted by the safety measures in place at the Sites. The Guidelines currently in place refer solely to the protection, maintenance, management, and monitoring of the property. (15) Although the Convention broadly requires the establishment of "an effective system of collective protection," the aim of the Convention has always been narrowly tailored to protect the "cultural and natural heritage" of the Sites. (16) However, tourism protection and general safety of persons receive little to no attention. (17) Indeed, the Guidelines do not even mention tourism except in the annex. (18) By providing for baseline tourist protection, the World Heritage Program will fill the current void in the Guidelines.

    The lack of Committee involvement and interest in tourist safety measures suggests that it is the State Parties' responsibility to ensure that World Heritage Sites are safe. (19) To a certain degree, state and tourism authorities have accepted this responsibility. For example, in Vietnam, the state took action and banned tour boats from visiting floating houses and villages in Ha Long Bay after the authorities identified a racket to scam and threaten tourists. (20) But what if the state fails to take action, due to insufficient funds or a lack of interest?

    The World Heritage Emblem signifies that a Site is not just important to the State Party, but rather that the international community has a 'collective interest' in preserving the Site. (21) The World Heritage Program should thus collaborate with State Parties to ensure that tourists at the Sites receive adequate protection from criminal activity and scams. If the Committee revises the Guidelines to provide for baseline security measures for tourist and not just the property itself, the individual State Parties could then introduce domestic legislation to specifically address the implementation of safety measures at their respective Sites. (22) Moreover, such a change in the Guidelines would galvanize states to take action and incorporate tourist safety into their current Site protection schemes.

    This Note analyzes the deficient tourism protection measures in place at World Heritage Sites. Section II examines the purpose of the Convention, the current Guidelines, and the periodic reporting requirements. This section also addresses current tourism protection issues in two countries hosting World Heritage Sites, Vietnam and Cambodia. These case studies were chosen because they are located in should partner with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (the "UNWTO") to brainstorm and implement protection services at World Heritage Sites. Second, the Committee should amend the Guidelines to provide for the baseline protection of tourists. Third, State Parties should report to the Committee regarding current and future security measures. In closing, Section V submits that these solutions are cost effective, and that the long-term benefits of tourism in the World Heritage arena will greater promote and fulfill the purpose of the Convention.


    In 1972, UNESCO sought to distinguish cultural and natural heritage properties of global importance by adopting the

    Convention. (23) The Convention encompassed "the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value." (24) It has since been ratified by 191 state parties. (25)

    The Convention set forth the standard and procedure for inscribing properties to the World Heritage List. (26) There are currently 1,007 inscribed properties on the World Heritage List, including 779 cultural, (27) 197 natural, (28) and 31 mixed sites. (29) Although some of these features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of properties attracted international visitors before their inscription, many have experienced an increase in tourism since gaining status as World Heritage Sites. (30) In fact, tourism continues to grow at the Sites, and trends in the tourism industry show that there could be as many as 1.6 billion international tourists annually by 2020. (31)

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