World Tourism Day is an opportunity to recognize the importance of sustainable tourism as a tool for intercultural dialogue, peace building and economic development. The United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017 has focused its efforts on promoting tourism as a catalyst for positive change.
For UNESCO, tourism presents both opportunities and challenges. With more than 1.2 billion people travelling across borders each year, World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks around the world are attracting a growing number of visitors. This is creating significant opportunities for local economic development, investment, and revenue for conservation. It is also enabling us to educate more people about our cultural and natural heritage, and the need to protect it for future generations. Tourism is also being used as a tool for creativity and innovation, to support intangible cultural heritage and the creative industries.
Unprecedented visitor numbers are nonetheless a growing concern for many destinations and World Heritage sites around the world. The large volume of people visiting during peak seasons is placing increased strain on management systems, infrastructure and local communities. Sites are increasingly under pressure to strike a balance between managing visitor numbers and protecting their Outstanding Universal Value. Climate change is a major challenge and the tourism industry is under increasing pressure to be more accountable and sustainable.
UNESCO is working with many World Heritage sites to address these challenges through its World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme. To improve visitor management planning and systems, UNESCO has developed an online World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit. The toolkit provides site managers with a step-by-step guide to all levels of tourism management, from strategy development to monitoring systems, and has already been tested and utilized across the world.
To address tourism congestion challenges and increase regional dispersal of tourism in Europe, UNESCO is working with the European Union and National Geographic to develop an online promotional platform entitled ‘World Heritage Journeys’. These journeys will encourage both international and domestic visitors to travel sustainably and discover World Heritage beyond Europe’s major tourism hubs.
UNESCO has also collaborated with UNEP and the Union of Concerned Scientists, to produce the ‘World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate’ (2016) publication, which provides insights into the vulnerability of World Heritage sites to climate change and the potential implications for the tourism industry.
Tourism certainly has a significant role to play in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and these are just a few examples of UNESCO’s contribution towards these goals. With 2018 declared both the ‘European Year of Cultural Heritage’, and the ‘EU/China Tourism Year’, UNESCO will be working closely with its State Parties to promote and protect the diversity of our shared heritage.