UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites create jobs, promote local activity through arts and crafts, foster tourism, and generate revenues. The new World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme was founded on the principle that it is important not only to promote heritage conservation, but also to advance socio-economic development in the communities surrounding these sites.

We all know the impact of ill-planned and mismanaged tourism. There is an Asian proverb that sums it up best: “Tourism is like fire. You can use it to cook your soup, but it can also burn down your house.” It’s especially important to heed those words of caution now, given the dramatic projected growth of travel to World Heritage Sites. International tourist arrivals grew by 4 percent in 2012, reaching 1.035 billion, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

Sustainability is key to planning and managing this growth. Sustainable tourism relies on the development and delivery of quality visitor experiences that do not degrade or damage any of the property’s natural or cultural values and visitor attraction. It requires effective, cooperative commitment and coordination among site management, the nearby communities, and all relevant public agencies and private enterprises.

This can be achieved through:

  • A focus on early intervention and the overall nomination process to ensure tourism management is included.
  • Strengthening the enabling environment for effective policies and governance.
  • Co-operating and partnering with the tourism sector as it is the industry that creates the products.
  • Taking a destination approach to tourism management as most tourism occurs outside a World Heritage property boundary.
  • Promoting capacity development for site management and local communities to more effectively manage the properties.

In the end, World Heritage Sites do truly involve the global community. All of us working together can ensure that our soup is cooked and that our houses are left standing.