The impact of tourism on Latin American World Heritage towns
The origin of tourism in the modern world is directly linked to the construction of the concept of cultural heritage. From the 1980s onwards, World Heritage properties, considered the most important testimonies of monuments, groups of buildings and sites throughout mankind’s history, have become main targets for tourism, especially historic towns and centres that express, sometimes more than other heritage categories, the features of a specific culture. Historic towns and centres constitute the main contribution, from a quantitative point of view, of Latin America and the Caribbean to the World Heritage List. These properties illustrate especially the colonial period, between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, even if a few examples from the late nineteenth and twentieth century are also inscribed on the List. One of the main impacts of inscription on the World Heritage List is an increase in the number of visitors. Although tourism constitutes an opportunity for development, through financial benefits, the creation of jobs or the improvement of public spaces and urban infrastructure, threats to the values of the sites are also frequent, especially in those cases where no adequate planning exists. The conflict between the historic town and the tourism town becomes evident in several aspects: replacement of the traditional population in favour of new building owners, disappearance of traditional functions in favour of new services for visitors, unequal distribution of benefits and impact on traditional ways of life of local communities, who are sometimes subject to visitors’ expectations. Even if tourism produces benefits, the lack of proper planning oriented to sustainable tourism causes several kinds of problems regarding authenticity and preservation of the outstanding universal values of these unique or exceptional towns. This chapter presents some common situations and explores the impacts on some specific cases of Latin American towns inscribed on the World Heritage List.