Most World Heritage sites are tourist destinations, and some are among the most iconic places on the planet. Take the case of Ahmedabad which was declared World Heritage City in 2017. Since then tourism in Ahmedabad has soared beating other Indian cities like New Delhi and Mumbai.
There is no doubt tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economic sectors, responsible for 9 per cent of gross domestic product globally and providing 9% of the jobs globally. Meanwhile, tourism is heavily reliant on energy-intensive modes of transport including aeroplanes and automobiles. Nearly 75 per cent of emissions in the tourism sector are from transportation, and this segment is projected to triple its emissions from the 2005 baseline by 2035. Tourism contributes approximately 5 per cent of the global total carbon emissions and this ratio expected to more than double within 25 years unless some corrective measures are taken.
But it should be noted that tourism is also highly vulnerable to climate change. Threats include changing weather systems and travel seasons at destinations, more extreme weather events, increasing insurance costs, water shortages and growing tourist exposure to some vector-borne diseases. Damage to cultural heritage, species loss and natural habitat degradation will also negatively affect tourism.
Climate impacts at World Heritage sites will affect a broad range of tourism segments including beach and coastal vacations; the cruise industry; ecotourism; dive and safari tourism; nature and outdoor tourism including bird watching, hiking, trekking, climbing and canoeing; cultural tourism; and visits to historic cities and buildings.
For example, UNESCO report in the past had identified uncontrolled numbers of visitors as a threat to the conservation of Ajanta, Elephanta and Ellora Caves which is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. Threat of visitors in large number to the site is real as the humidity increase within the caves caused by uncontrolled numbers of visitors which leads to fungus growth, attracting insects and eventually bats. Added to this is the inadequate security at the site thatencourages vandalism and theft.
If tourism is unplanned and poorly managed it can be socially, economically and culturally disruptive and cause damage and degradation to sensitive ecosystems, landscapes, monuments and communities.
Additional measures also need to be taken to increase the resilience of cultural and natural heritage to reduce the impact of unsustainable tourism and increase financing and resources for managing protected areas. Local participation, drawing on local perspectives, priorities and knowledge, is a precondition of sustainable tourism development.
Tourism and World Heritage are natural partners. Local governments are required to present World Heritage properties to the public, and the inscription of a site on the World Heritage List brings responsibilities for protection as well as opportunities for community and economic progress through sustainable development.
Tourism at World Heritage sites can provide considerable benefits for national economies as well as for the sites and their local communities, including bringing infrastructure development, economic opportunities, publicity and public awareness. Indeed, the potential economic benefits of tourism are often a major consideration in the nomination and inscription of World Heritage sites.
If allowed to develop too fast, in an unsustainable way or without proper attention to issues of social equity and local impact, tourism can undermine the very assets that people want to visit. In the worst cases, little or no social or economic benefit accrues to local communities and the integrity of a site’s Outstanding Universal Value can be threatened or degraded.
Its true that because of their international designation and the resulting resources and attention they receive, World Heritage sites have the potential to provide some of the best models and innovative examples of sustainable tourism. In order to realize that potential, however, and preserve the Outstanding Universal Value that defines sites as so transcendentally important for future generations, sustainable and adaptive management strategies should be instituted to help make sites more resilient to climate change.
World Heritage sites promote tourism and sustainable tourism can promote the preservation of natural and cultural heritage. However, if unplanned, uncontrolled or poorly managed, tourism can have a wide range of negative consequences for World Heritage sites and their local communities. Sustainable tourism policy orientations that define the relationship between World Heritage and sustainable tourism is therefore yhe most suitable path which every county needs to follow.