UNESCO’s World Heritage Disease

Is a “World Heritage” designation the kiss of death for spectacular sites around the world?

We posted a few days ago about National Geographic Traveler rating various UNESCO World Heritage sites based upon the impact that tourism and local infrastructure is having upon the site itself. A great follow-up comment by RW directed readers to a Newsweek article from last April which theorizes that sites identified by UNESCO for their unique cultural and historical attributes are consequently doomed by this very act.

Once a site is chosen as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, it basically gets the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. This means that every tourist within 200 miles will detour to visit simply because it is on the World Heritage list. This is absolutely true. I’ve done it myself. I’ve gone way out of my way to check out places I’ve never heard about merely because my guidebook mentioned they were World Heritage sites.

It’s an ironic affliction. Locations once so very obscure suddenly become “hot destinations” and are consequently trampled by hordes of tourists, tour guides, and tour busses.

So why bother with the designations at all?

UNESCO helps provide financial support to maintain and protect the locations. Ironically, with the accompanying increase in tourism, they are most likely going to need those funds.