Who came first the tourist or the heritization?

Every time I go to a UNESCO World heritage I ask myself the same thing: what came first, the tourist or the designation? For many places the UNESCO branding comes hand in hand with heaps of tourism arrivals, and for people like me who are always analysing tourism impact, I wonder if UNESCO is nourishing the tourism crowding. I had to pursue this issue in our interview with Amilcar, what are the negative sides of the UNESCO designation?

When I was doing fieldwork on my bachelors many communities in Mexico kept saying that their goals was to get the national designation of Pueblos Magicos, if not UNESCO World Heritage. Coming form a Town with both designations this issue always gives me the heebie jeebies. 

I have seen the commodification of culture and traditions when they are consumed by tourism, but there must be another side to the story. What are the heritage managers doing to tackle these issues?

Is become more and more common that UNESCO sites are being appropriated for financial, political and geopolitical ends. When we talk about tourism, it's been seen that there are contradictory consequences of UNESCO protection in intense tourism development. From mass tourism damaging the sites to the commodification of local traditions for the tourist experience. 

Carrol wrote in 2017:  “When the site’s visitor carrying capacity is exceeded, negative consequences can arise. Environmental degradation, damage to monuments or works of art, disruption of ecosystems, displacement of local people, and disruption of their access to their own historic or spiritual resources and traditions—all of these are potentially negative consequences that can arise as a result of too many visitors” which is fomented through "heritization" of sites around the world.

Other issues recognised are the limitations for locals to their cities, which is experienced by the Catalans in Barcelona for example. In The Conversation article by Chole Maurel, the author identifies central districts designated as UNESCO world heritage, boomed in the tourism industry but have affected locals in negative ways with brutal eviction to gentrify and restore the neighbourhoods.

As a result of these issues, UNESCO has incorporated a set of overarching values under the Sustainable Tourism scheme, to protect environmentally and culturally the sites from the impact of overcrowding tourists. These values include sustainability, stakeholders working together, from city planners, to local engagement and decision making, among others that Amilcar will discuss in this episode of The Wander and Wonder Podcast

Listen to this episode by clicking here!

About our guest:

Amilcar Vargas (Mexico, 1980). PhD Candidate in UB. Since 2012 he lives in Barcelona and have worked in World Heritage fields as a consultant (Casa Batlló, Hospital de Sant Pau, Palau de la Música Catalana), researcher (Catalonia and Mexico's World Heritage sites) and Intern (UNESCO-HQ Paris). His PhD research is on social participation in World Heritage sites, focused in archaeological sites in Mexico. He's a member of international organisations about museums, heritage and archaeology, as International Council of Museums (ICOM), European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), Group of Heritage and Public Archaeology (GAPP) and World Archaeological Congress (WAC). Since 2018, he is the responsible of World Heritage in Casa Batlló, a house built by architect Antoni Gaudí in 1906 in Barcelona. You can contact Amilcar on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Chloe Maurel (2017) “The unintended consequences of UNESCO world Heritage listing” https://theconversation.com/the-unintended-consequences-of-unesco-world-heritage-listing-71047

Jyoti Hosagrahar (2017) “Culture: at the heart of SDGs” https://en.unesco.org/courier/april-june-2017/culture-heart-sdgs

Laura Carrol (2017) “Overtourism at UNESCO World Heritage Sites” https://ethicaltraveler.org/2017/11/overtourism-at-unesco-world-heritage-sites/

UNESCO “Unesco World Heritage and Sustainable tourism programme” http://whc.unesco.org/en/tourism/

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