Heritage has always been a major driver of tourism and continues to be so. Visitor destinations are increasingly anxious to capitalise on their heritage resources and the gaining of World Heritage Site status is often seen as a symbol of status, a form of accreditation and a promotional tool.
In our experience, there are a number of crucial issues that need to be considered in the context of tourism and World Heritage sites.
First, there is a danger of confused objectives when seeking Nomination. The World Heritage site concept was not established for tourism purposes; its purpose is to help protect and maintain the best of our heritage for heritage’s sake. Tourism may contribute to and benefit from such status but sites have to be world class in built heritage terms and nomination is based on that premise, not what it might do for tourism. Indeed, there is a danger that the welter of sites, some of questionable value in world heritage terms, being put forward on an annual basis might dilute the brand and diminish the potential promotional value.
Second, there is a real concern that there are false expectations about the potential impact of increased visitor numbers on nomination. Unfortunately, there is very little hard evidence available on the impact of nomination but informed anecdote suggests that most of the major sites are already well visited and any additional visits are nominal and anyway hard to identify. For smaller or more obscure sites, there would appear to be some short-term impact from the publicity of nomination, particularly if the site is not a traditional attraction. However, this impact can and often does dwindle with time.
Part of the problem here is that although the World Heritage Site concept is well known in professional heritage circles, it still has low recognition amongst the general public. This is probably changing but it will be some time before the World Heritage logo is a driver of tourism in its own right.