World Heritage held hostage

SUKHOTHAI, Thailand, 8 August 2018: World Heritage sites are in danger of being swamped by tourists, but the solution lies in creating a sense of ownership among local communities to preserve the “outstanding universal value” of heritage sites.

That was a core conclusion of the First ASEAN World Heritage Summit, held in Sukhothai Thailand, earlier this week

Over 100 stakeholders in the field of heritage management, culture, art and tourism in the ASEAN region discussed how to protect ASEAN World Heritage sites.

Hosts of the summit at the opening ceremony.

Delegates confirmed the urgent need to mitigate the impacts of fast-paced tourism growth at World Heritage sites across the region.

The meeting was hosted close to the Sukhothai World Heritage historical park, one of Thailand’s earliest sites to gain global heritage recognition. But delegates, mainly experts in conservation and the protection of heritage sites, warned that mass tourism was a threat and that already ‘over-tourism” was damaging some of the more popular sites.

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Vietnam’s Imperial palace in Hue and Laos’ World Heritage town of Luang Prabang are all at risk from their popularity with tourists.

Thailand’s sustainable tourism development agency known as DASTA organised and funded the event. It attracted delegates from UNESCO and ASEAN representatives with a smattering of private sector organisations that fund heritage related projects.

It was co-sponsored, or supported, by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mekong Coordinating Office, Bangkok Airways, PATA (Thailand Chapter) and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB).

Delegates attending the 2 to 4 August summit called for a continued dialogue to build a sense of ownership in local communities linked to heritage sites. This would enable communities to take the lead in an alliance that would balance conservation and protection with tourism management.

There was an urgent call for local communities to ensure they had mechanisms in place to engage the young generation to preserve the “outstanding universal value” of all World Heritage sites.

DASTS director-general Nalikatibhag Sangsnit said: “The only way we can protect our heritage is to engage local communities and young generation to recognise their own future because the cultural assets belong to them”.

At the close of the summit delegates presented five ‘E’  goals to raise the game plan.

Empower communities for inclusiveness in managing the sites.
Establish responsible tourism principles at the World heritage sites.
Embrace measures to improve site management.
Employ a balance between development and protection.
Engage multi-stakeholders to uphold and protect both tangible and intangible heritage.