chapter  2
11 Pages

World Heritage as a revitalization movement: managing local and global tourism in UNESCO’s heritage-scape


More than 40 years after the World Heritage Convention was signed, UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) program designating places of local interest into sites of universal value has had an immense effect on preservation, tourism, and development initiatives. What was initially a network of 12 primarily Western sites has grown to become a worldwide social system, a heritage-scape (Di Giovine 2009a) composed of more than 1,000 places in 163 nation-states representing diverse cultures, times, and spaces across the globe. Although in its early years UNESCO operated under a decidedly Western notion of heritage that coincided with, and dialectically affected, the birth of nation-states and nationalist ideologies (cf. Garcia-Fuentes 2010; Ashworth 2008; Edwards 2007: 27) – a notion of heritage, UNESCO admits, that has been largely ‘confined to architectural monuments’, which ‘over-represented’ European and Christian structures (1994: 2-3) – today islands, marine areas, historic industrial edifices, and cultural sites in developing countries represent the largest increases in designations. Private trusts, national funds-in-trust and international consortia of experts operate in every continent. UNESCO’s own World Heritage Fund, which assists locals in developing management plans, and provides ‘technical assistance’ and best-practices exchange programs for site managers in developing areas, has increased from disbursing $2,500 in 1978 to over $4 million in 2009 (World Heritage Centre 2010). And despite wars, terrorism, and cyclical economic downturns, tourism continues to be the largest and fastest-growing industry in the world, surpassing even that of the oil trade (UNWTO 2007). Hundreds of millions of tourists visit World Heritage Sites annually (cf. UNESCO 2010); the private, user-generated website even posts a long list of properties whose visitation rates exceed one million people per year. And while 2009 was the first year in at least two decades in which visitor arrivals did not increase, tourism to developing countries – particularly in Africa – continued to grow at a rate of 5 percent (Kester 2010: 5-6).