Is UNESCO World Heritage status fair?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Last Sunday, the American news channel, CNN, ran a story on its travel pages about UNESCO and whether it makes any difference to travellers.

image of Stonehenge
Stonehenge – a UNESCO World Heritage site but are there too many in the developed and too few in less developed countries?

Unfortunately it didn’t really answer the question because the only real answer came from Maria Gravari-Barbas described as the coordinator of the UNESCO Chair “Tourism, Culture, Development” program at the Sorbonne in Paris. You could argue that she might be considered bias given the close connection to UNESCO.

No other person other than a blogger/influence who is about to have a book published about visiting lots of UNESCO sites was quoted in the story.

So there was no independent research quoted. Gut feeling says it does assist a site if it wins but surely it helps a lesser known site rather than an already famous one. If the status was removed – as it was in the case of Liverpool – from a famous site like the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, Venice in Italy or Stonehenge in the UK would it affect tourist numbers?

I suspect not.

But the CNN story did raise another point, a point which is more important.

Over half of all listed sites are in North American or Europe, areas where the wealth of nations can afford the campaign and work to apply for World Heritage Status. What about less developed countries where sites of the standing of some in the west can be found but which haven’t been accredited. Some countries can’t afford the costs of an application and the necessary funding to maintain those sites to preserve UNESCO status.

It suggests that the process of achieving status has an in-built flaw.

And if a country doesn’t apply, no status can be granted.

Wouldn’t it be better to be taken out of the hands of government and placed in a panel of experts who can judge each site on its merits independent of whether a country can afford to enter the process?

Until then you might say that UNESCO status is just a rich man’s gong and is flawed as many of the other gongs that are trotted out by the tourism industry.

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