COVID-19 has impacted all sectors and all regions, and the world’s over 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage properties are no exception.

To understand the impact of COVID-19 on World Heritage one year after the start of the pandemic, UNESCO launched a far-reaching survey of site managers and national authorities and have published the results in the report ‘World Heritage in the face of COVID-19’.

The survey found that many respondents expect the effects of the crisis on World Heritage properties to continue in the months, if not years, to come. At the height of the crisis, it was reported that 90% of countries with World Heritage properties had closed or partially closed them and respondents to this survey still reported an average figure of 71% closure of sites in February 2021. Visitors to World Heritage sites dropped by 66% in 2020 according to respondents and at sites where staff redundancies were reported (13% of sites in the survey), an average of 40% of permanent staff and 53% of temporary staff were made redundant at those sites.

Respondents overwhelmingly reported large impacts on local communities, especially from the loss of revenue due to huge reductions in visitors to World Heritage sites and grave concerns about the future. Some World Heritage properties also reported cases of illegal logging and mining, poaching and vandalism due to the reduction of monitoring and a decrease in managed visitation.

Some respondents recommended a recovery process that includes measures to support the tourism sector and communities and to safeguard livelihoods in the transition towards more versatile and resilient World Heritage site management. The uncertainty surrounding the current crisis has suggested a policy of re-alignment of properties towards domestic tourism for many stakeholders in the short-term, providing, however, the equally important opportunity to “Build Back Better”.

“I very much welcome this report which gives us great insight into the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the heritage sector as a whole and our precious World Heritage sites in particular. I have personally seen the dramatic effects on tourism income and benefits for local communities at the World Heritage property of Petra, Jordan, which was among the most visited sites in the whole region. We need to work together to build back better, including with the tourism industry!”

—HRH Princess Dana Firas of Jordan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and President of the Petra National Trust

The report is one of a series published by the UNESCO Culture Sector on the impact of COVID-19 across various industries related to culture.

UNESCO would like to thank Member States, their delegations, ministries and institutions for their detailed responses which constitute the basis of the data used in the preparation of this report. We are especially grateful to World Heritage site managers for participating in the online survey and through individual interviews, taking the time to provide information and insights into the challenges and opportunities facing their properties and prospects for recovery.

The report can be downloaded in
English or French.