machu picchu

Make Your Travel
More Sustainable by Visiting
UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the ‘must-see’ list for travellers when they find themselves in a destination with access to the sites on this list. Some well-known UNESCO World Heritage sites are sites such as Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon in the USA, or the Acropolis in Greece. UNESCO World Heritage Sites are not only unique but also very important due to the preservation of history or culture.  But beyond that, how does UNESCO World Heritage contribute to sustainability? Keep reading below to learn more!

What is UNESCO? 

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. 

UNESCO’s mission statement states that their goal is to ‘contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture and communication and information contribute towards the realisation of those goals’.  As an organisation, UNESCO’s goal – put simply – is to contribute to global peace and security by promoting international collaboration via education, the sciences, culture and communication efforts. 

Not only does UNESCO contribute to overall sustainability with its efforts, but also is a noted contributor to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This is shown through UNESCO’s work with culture and heritage, contribution to the sciences and education, as well as its focus on gender equality issues.

In addition, UNESCO works with indigenous peoples in relation to their cultural and heritage preservation efforts. This collaboration between UNESCO and the indigenous peoples results in a more inclusive, representative and cooperative manner of site preservation efforts as well as the ability for better educating the general public.

What is a UNESCO World Heritage site?

A UNESCO World Heritage site is a site which is a landmark or site of historical, cultural or scientific significance wherein the preservation of said site would benefit global interests, aid in the education regarding its significance and preserve the interests of humanity for future generation. The World Heritage initiatives started in 1972 and are worldwide and travellers are able to search for World Heritage sites in their destination of choice on the UNESCO website by clicking here.  There are 1121 natural and cultural places inscribed on the World Heritage List to date (as of May, 2020).

What are the benefits of being a World Heritage site?

  • Recognition / Identity – For a site to become a UNESCO World Heritage site, it generates a new identity for the site, around the world. One could equate this to the significance of a lifestyle makeover.
  • Funding – becoming a listed UNESCO World Heritage site opens up a world of funding possibilities for the sites maintenance, study, protection and conservation efforts
  • Tourism – As UNESCO World Heritage sites are a highly sought after and appreciated destination for tourists the world over, it is no surprise that the listed UNESCO site experiences an unparalleled surge in tourism and tourism profits.
Pamukkale lime sinter terrace in Turkey

How is World Heritage sustainable?

According to the Policy Document on World Heritage and Sustainable Development, the three pillars of sustainable development are ‘environmental sustainability, inclusive social development and inclusive economic development’. The UNESCO World Heritage programme is able to contribute to these pillars.

World Heritage Sites are not just about amazing tourism opportunities. Globally, World Heritage sites provide benefit to millions of people. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has a role of advisory to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and evaluator of natural world heritage sites, Natural World Heritage sites provide crucial habitats to many iconic species, as well as protect rare ecological processes and stunning landscapes. They also contribute to economies, climate stability and human well-being. Two-thirds of natural sites on the World Heritage List are crucial sources of water, and about half help prevent natural disasters such as floods or landslides. Over 90% of listed natural sites create jobs and provide income from tourism and recreation. Forests found in World Heritage sites across the tropical regions store an estimated 5.7 billion tons of carbon – higher forest biomass carbon density on average than the remaining protected area network.

Natural World Heritage sites have high international visibility and provide insight into conservation successes and challenges. Be it biosphere reserves, historically or culturally significant sites, World Heritage sites are among the most significant protected areas in the world.

The World Heritage does an amazing amount of preservation work through these sites. UNESCO advises the local governments about conservation, and the local governments have the direct responsibility to manage the sites. Also, the collective responsibility is shared by local governments, civil society, local communities and indigenous peoples to preserve and protect their nature, culture and endangered species through local and community oriented programmes which actively engage in preservation efforts. Designating these sites as tourism sites aids in the preservation activities while also serving as an educational tool for the general public. 

With all of the tourism options available to travellers wherever they are, isn’t a good feeling to know that the profits from a visit to a natural, historical or culturally significant site extend beyond the site itself and into working for the betterment of the global community?

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