1.         Trang An Landscape Complex (Viet Nam) (C/N 1438bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  2014

Criteria  (v)(vii)(viii)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1438/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1438/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

N/A

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1438/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2018

On 6 December 2017, the State Party submitted a state of conservation report, which is available at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1438/documents and includes two Action Plans for visitor management and archaeological heritage management, respectively. The report provides an update on the previous Committee decision, as follows:

In March 2018, national media reported on the illegal construction by Trang An Tourism Company of a 1 km long concrete walkway at Cai Ha Mountain within the property, despite repeated warnings from Ninh Binh Tourism Department. On 22 March 2018, the World Heritage Centre requested the State Party to provide clarification on this issue. On 11 May 2018, the State Party provided further information on the construction and the measures taken to dismantle it. Dismantling of the structure started on 30 March 2018 and are expected to take three months..

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies

The State Party’s commitment to refine management is fully acknowledged. The shifting of management authority under the provincial Tourism Department confirms that tourism is a primary management objective. While fully legitimate, the coincidence of a comparatively small property and enormous visitor numbers - increasing beyond expectations - call for responsive, strong and decisive management responses. It should be noted in that regard that the establishment of a replica film set cannot be considered an appropriate heritage promotion strategy for a World Heritage property, misses the opportunity to raise awareness of the cultural and natural significance of the property and has clear adverse impacts on its authenticity. It is advisable that management authorities focus instead on raising awareness of its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

The rapid increase of already-high tourism numbers will most likely change the property’s rural and social setting, creating significant direct and indirect impacts in terms of traffic, parking infrastructure, disturbance, sewage and waste management, etc. For example, the State Party mentions a need for additional parking lots in the buffer zone without further elaboration. The sharply increased visitor numbers and substantially revised future estimates add weight to the acute necessity of adequate management capacity and may swamp even improved management efforts. It should be recalled that the ICOMOS evaluation noted that “the management system for the property does not appear to be robust enough to meet the challenges affecting it in terms of tourism development”.

The measures suggested to address overcrowding and carrying capacity appear to be an attempt to accommodate growing visitation only, rather than enhancing understanding of impacts and necessary enforcement of acceptable limits to carrying capacity, for example the substantial increase in the number of boats to 3,865 by 2020 beyond the cap of 3,000 determined in the Management Plan. The report makes no reference to criteria, methodological approaches, let alone measurements of impacts beyond visual observations and visitor feedback. The current approaches of the State Party to address environmental and social impacts should be strengthened by providing concrete scientific data to ensure that tourism growth is adequately controlled in light of the primary concern of conserving the property’s OUV. 

While the specifically recognized natural World Heritage values refer to landscape beauty and the extraordinary karst geology, the biodiversity setting is also a key part of this aesthetic. The interpretation plan should be clearly developed to provide visitors with information beyond just scenic beauty of the property. Systematic terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity conservation should become an integral element of management planning, including monitoring. This needs to be facilitated by adequate mandates and capacities in the management structure, which currently appears to focus on tourism development. Uncontrolled tourism use of this small property may jeopardize the very reasons why tourists are attracted to the place.

The above-described illegal construction of a concrete staircase at the property emphasizes the Advisory Bodies’ concerns, noted in their 2014 Evaluation reports that “the greatest threat to the nominated property is from inadequately planned and managed tourism along with its associated infrastructure support and service provision developments” (IUCN), and that one of the main threats to the property was the “lack of adequate regulation for development of facilities for tourism” (ICOMOS). The case also highlights the need for an appropriate mechanism of consultation within the Management Board and among all stakeholders to address various issues in considering multiple needs for a sound preservation and promotion of the property as well as a clearer protocol concerning any new and major developments, stronger regulation and control of tourism developments, wider understanding of heritage value by stakeholders and enhanced tourism management.

While there is no indication that the proposed university in Bai Dinh will develop into a project in the immediate future, the State Party should keep the Committee updated on possible changes of the project status. While the State Party does not perceive a current need for an SEA in this regard, the Committee’s previous recommendation for an SEA had the objective to encourage comprehensive planning in the buffer zone beyond this particular project and is thus still considered valid. In that regard, it should be recalled that the IUCN Evaluation had noted that “protection of the nominated property must have primacy in considering any permissible activities and developments”.  Furthermore, it appears that there are no clear mechanisms in place to fulfil the need for impact studies within the property and its buffer zone before the construction of new buildings and amenities.

The State Party’s report highlights a number of developments and construction of infrastructures such as the visitor centre at Tam Coc wharf, private tourism facilities, the car park and the small temple, while leaving it unclear whether measures are in place to ascertain that these developments are carried out after proper study of potential heritage loss and their impact on OUV. Therefore, a clear process needs to be elaborated for Environmental and Heritage Impact Assessments (EIAs and HIAs) to be carried out prior to any developments within the property and its buffer zone. The information provided on the planned reintroduction of the Delacour’s Langur is limited. Should the State Party wish to proceed, engagement with IUCN’s Species Survival Commission is strongly encouraged.

In light of the abovementioned concerns related to tourism and visitor management, and unregulated tourism development, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property, in order to assess its current state of conservation, and to provide further technical advice on these issues.

Decision Adopted: 42 COM 7B.62

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/18/42.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decisions 38 COM 8B.14 and 40 COM 7B.67, adopted at its 38th (Doha 2014) and 40th (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016) sessions respectively,
  3. Welcomes the progress made by the State Party in following up on earlier Committee concerns about management planning, including the review of the Management Plan and the elaboration and submission of Action Plans for visitation management and archaeological heritage management;
  4. Notes that current visitation has already increased beyond the previously anticipated two million visitors per annum and is further anticipated to increase to 3.5 million visitors per annum by 2020, and urges the State Party to continue the necessary studies to enable a better understanding of impacts on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) from high and rapidly increasing visitation, and to establish and enforce a strict limit to visitation to ensure it does not exceed the carrying capacity of the property, in order to conserve its OUV, as well as its biodiversity as a key part of its aesthetic value;
  5. Also welcomes that the dismantling of the illegally built concrete walkway at Cai Ha Mountain has been completed;
  6. Requests the State Party to:
    1. Further strengthen the regulations for tourism facilities,
    2. Ensure the establishment of an appropriate consultation mechanism within the Management Board and among all stakeholders of the property, in order to:
      1. Ascertain that a balanced approach be made considering aspects relating to tourism, heritage management and nature conservation as a whole,
      2. Apply a clearer reporting protocol concerning any new and major developments within the property and ensure the necessary prior consultation of the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines,
    3. Ensure that current measures remain in place to limit overcrowding, including the maximum daily quota for peak and normal visitation days,
    4. Undertake further assessment of the facilities and services required to adequately service current and future visitation, taking into account the substantial current numbers and the revised future estimates, including the extrapolated festival-day peaks of up to 50,000 visitors,
    5. Further develop the sections within the Management Plan concerning archaeological heritage, in particular staff training and capacity building, so that the national human resources are continuously provided to ensure a long term and successful management of the archaeological heritage of the property;
  7. Also requests the State Party to continue to provide adequate financial and human resources for systematic environmental monitoring, as an integral part of management planning and operations;
  8. Notes that the temporary replica film set will be removed and further requests the State Party to ensure that any heritage promotion and marketing undertaken within the property is consistent with interpretation of its OUV;
  9. Requests furthermore the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to provide advice for the implementation and revision of the property Management Plan;
  10. Noting that the State Party has no intention to construct a new university in the Bai Dinh area, nevertheless reiterates its request to the State Party to submit, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, detailed information on any proposed development projects within the property, its buffer zone and setting for review by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies prior to any decisions being taken that could be difficult to reverse, including new parking infrastructure;
  11. Also urges the State Party to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) for any major developments within the property and the buffer zone as a timely and appropriate method of assessing both individual and cumulative impacts of current and planned developments on this small and fragile property, taking into account potential impacts on the OUV of the property in line with the IUCN and ICOMOS guidelines on impact assessments for the proposed projects, prior to allowing any such developments to take place;
  12. Encourages the State Party to continue to work with the Advisory Bodies on further refining its efforts, including the integration of biodiversity conservation into management and decision making;
  13. Requests moreover the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2019, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.