Visitor Perceptions of World Heritage Site Protection

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As per the definition of (Lijiang 1999), a World Heritage Site could be a natural or cultural geographical habitat, monument or city that is considered threatened and irreplaceable, and as such warrants preservation and protection by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). It is the consideration of UNESCO that a majority of the natural and cultural sites offers mankind benefits that are beyond measure, and so it becomes important that they are maintained and protected (Hall & McArthur 1998). The immeasurable features offered by World Heritage Sites may either be natural or manmade, threatened by modernization, globalization, aging, or man’s havoc as a result of war or industrialization.

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The term heritage may be viewed as a contradictory entity. Some heritage seems to operate in the form of preservation, conservation, or education. In addition, other types of heritage attractions seem to operate based on a different system of value. The ‘heritage industry’ is seen as presenting to the individuals the past, in a ’commodified’ package, while laying emphasis on competitive advantage and play. Some of these could be: our site has ‘the oldest buildings’, the ‘most attractions’, ‘the biggest choice of souvenirs’, ‘the most authentic’, et cetera.

As one might imagine, the uniqueness of any heritage is a key factor in the marketing of such a site. Moreover, heritage could also be thought of as a noticeably social institution. The relationship between heritage as a representation of the past and consumer activity, or in rare instances, the current existence, requires to be understood quite well as a process that helps us appreciate the connection that we share with certain ‘structural frameworks’ that bestows on us our social position and identity, such as gender, class, work, family, ethnicity, and age (Prentice 993a).

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO program, names, catalogues and conserves sites that exhibit remarkable natural and cultural importance, at least from the perspective of the heritage of humanity. The World Heritage Fund may under certain circumstances allocate funds to some of the listed sites. The UNESCO program for the world heritage sites got established with the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Jamal, & Getz 1995), and which later got adopted in 1972 (November 16) by the General Conference of UNESCO.

Since then however, this convention has received ratification by 185 states. 878 sites in 145 states had been listed by 2008). Of these 678 were listed as cultural sites, while the remainder got listed as natural (174) and mixed properties (26). A majority of the world heritage sites are to be found in Italy, home to about 43 of the world heritage sites. This is the number that has also been inscribed on the UNESCO list (Fyall et al 2008).

Each one of the inscribed and enlisted World Heritage Site in the UNESCO bears a reference number. However, new inscriptions mostly include earlier sites, and which are now enlisted, ‘as part of a larger description’ (Ladkin &. Bertramini 2002). Due to this, the numbers inscribed are way above 1200, but appear fewer than this on the UNESCO list. Individual World Heritage Sites happens to be owned by that state under whose territory they fall in, with such a state then presumed to be responsible for a preservation of such sites ‘in the interest of the international community’ (Tosun 2000; Pearce 2005).

Visitor Management at WHS

One of the key reasons behind the conservation of World Historical Sites that bears cultural importance is that these plays an educational role, in as far as an understanding of the past is concerned (Prentice 1993b; Garrod & Fyall 2000). So that these kinds of sites could be maintained for the sake of the generations to come, as well as their economic survival, there is a need to have visitors to visit them, and get charged a fee in the process. Nevertheless, the introduction of visitors may as well place such historical sites under pressure. For this reason, it becomes necessary that the world historical sites are effectively managed so that the expectations of the visitors are met, and their physical environment maintained as well.

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The initial intention of the ‘world’s heritage sites list’ was to offer a mechanism through which sites that have a universal value could be offered a protection, while at the same time also allowing an access to funding resources, and within a management structure (Wahab & Pigram 1997; Shackley 2000). A majority of the World Heritage Sites have become quiet fragile as a result of natural erosion, as well as due to the great number of visitors who gets to visit them on an annual basis.

The management of such visitors has turned into a new but nonetheless inexact science that seeks to balance the requirements and needs of the visitors. Furthermore, visitor management takes into consideration the impact that they (visitors) may have, as well as the plight of the artifacts and buildings that are seen as being quiet fragile (Weaver 2006). It is upon each and every one of the World Heritage Sites to see to it that they are able to solve the problems the dilemma of managing their visitors poses to them.

For this reason, the management of visitors into historic sites is as unique as the World Historic Sites in questions. Besides, the current World Historic Sites have attempted to manage their visitors to varying success levels. Nevertheless, the sheer size of a majority of the sites, and the need to handle the annual levels of visitors that could translate into million has necessitated the implementation of strategies to manage visitors, some of which are already quite formalized, while the remainder are in existence entirely by custom.

The world Heritage List could be regarded as the contemporary equal of “the seven wonders of the world”. It includes a string of monuments, sites, buildings and landscapes. In one way or the other, each one of these sites may not be in a position to comprehend the difficulties of the process through which locations finds their way to this list (the list is often administered at the UNESCO; headquarter in Paris, by the World Heritage Centre).

The definition ‘World Heritage Site’ instantly gets the recognized as ‘designating’ a very special thing, with regard to the ‘must see’ things in the heritage and tourism industries. Besides the list containing some of the landmarks with a global recognition, it nevertheless contains less-known and smaller monuments and properties whose importances are global, and which ‘transcends existing cultural values’. The importance of the World Heritage Sites cannot be denied, seeing that they function as visitors’ magnets, implying those issues of transport, accommodation and accessibility, as well as other services provided need to be handled in a tactful manner. This is important, so that the heritage sites may not be seen to be ‘swamped with commercial outlets’, while at the same time also meeting the visitors’ needs.

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Clearly, such a balancing act is not easy to achieve. In a majority of the instances, a direct conflict has ensued between on the one hand, a site manager who is keen on restricting the number of visitors to a heritage site, in order to avert damages, the local community (whose wish is to generate money from visitors to the site), and the national government, whose wish is to utilize such a site as a marketing device for its image

Protection Measures at WHS

A lot of the countries preserve their World Heritages Sites for numerous reasons. First, it could be that a governmental or public momentum to make the World Heritage Sites may be lacking, or the monetary resources to do so may be quiet limited. Wars, cultural shots and expansion have been known to severely destroy World Heritage Sites. For example, in Afghanistan, the Taliban destroyed a number of historical monuments that had a religious significance in that country, because this movement thought that the sites were an opposition to the scriptures of Islam.

Moreover, a world heritage sites could be through of being in danger of a country lacks the scientific or technical expertise necessary to salvage or protect for example a habitat believed to be the home of a species that is endangered. UNESCO views a certain place as a World Heritage Site so that it can assist with financial resources, enhance the level of public awareness globally as well as the necessary expertise that is required for the preservation of such a site (Yeoman & Drummond 2001). UNESCO has categorized what in its opinion are called world heritage sites into two groups: natural heritage and cultural heritage.

Natural heritage entails scientific important and unique natural features, and also the geographical features, and home to some of the world’ endangered species. A site could also be categorized as a natural heritage if it does not occur in any other place (Well 1997). On the other hand, cultural heritages involves monuments (including architectural sites), and archeological structures such as cave dwellings.

The UNECSCO funding program for such world heritage sites is mainly obtained from the contributions by the member nations, as well as through donations and sale of publications. UNESCO’s programs seek to educate countries on ways of identifying valuing and establishing programs to promote the conservation and preservation of the world heritage sites (Well 1997). Furthermore, UNESCO preserves a list of some of the world heritage sites by country that could be endangered. This list takes into account the Salzburg historic center, the Australian Great Barrier Reef, Angkor, Cambodia, and China’s Great Wall, The Canadian Wood Buffalo National Park, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and Dubrovnik Old City.

The United Nations Convention that concerns itself with the protraction of natural and cultural heritage of the world has offered various methods through which heritage sites could be protected (Shackley 2000; Yeoman & Drummond 2001). Further, the convention notes the fast rate at which the natural and cultural heritage of the world is “increasingly threatened with destruction” as well as the “deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world’ (United Nations 1996).

In as much as the World Heritage Sites gets ratified by the UNESCO, what is clear though is that such a designation may not on its own be enough to help protect a given site. The World Heritage Sites could get lost via development impacts. A case in point is the Florida Everglade National Park which in 1993 was hit by a development crisis, prompting the committee on the list of sites of the World Heritage Sites to enter this park on a list of sites presumed to be in danger. On another note, World Heritage Sites could also get destroyed on purpose, like in the case of the two ‘giant Buddha statues’ that got destroyed in 2001 8in Afghanistan (English Historic Towns Forum 1994; Glasson et al 1995).

Visitor perceptions on heritage protection measures

Successful protection measures of a World Heritage Site require that enough resources be directed towards the management of visitors to such sites (Glasson et al 1995). Visitor management entails the development as well as an implementation of the regulations and rules with regard to the activities of visitors, and as such, acts as a key part of the management of world heritage sites (Uzzell 1989; Prentice 1993; Sharpley 1998). This applies to both the natural and cultural heritage sites.

The objective of visitor management is to eliminate an inappropriate utilization of such facilities, while at the same time also enhancing the experiences of the visitors. Additionally, it facilitates in a securing of the quality of such heritage sites. For this reason, a number of strategies to manage visitors have already been implemented by the various world heritage sites. Some are targeted at visitors’ enjoyment, while others are concerned with the activities of the visitors, while at these heritage sites, as well as in the knowledge and understanding of them (Sharpley 1998).

The issue of having in place measures that seeks to protect world heritage sites is very important. This is not just a concern for the managers of such sites, but it is a concern as well for the millions of visitors globally who gets to visit the heritage sites on an annual basis. Seeing that a majority of the visitors to the world heritage sites are now more educated this has facilitated in altering their perception regarding the decisions by the management of the various heritage sites to institute protection measures. These educated visitors realize that without such a decision, there will be no places to visit in the years to come.

Different types of visitor perceptions toward different degrees of heritage protection measures

Some of the world heritage sites have also been shown to be both delicate and fragile, and therefore are more susceptible to destruction. This is also one of the reasons why they have been protected in the first place. As a result, there is a need to ensure that care and attention is taken to preserve and conserve them without letting them get destroyed. Failure to this, their authentic value would be lost, and visitors appear to recognize that, and so they do not seek to oppose measures that attempt to help achieve this objective.

A majority of the world heritage sites are also aggressively marketing themselves to ensure that they compete adequately for the number of visitors who comes to their sites. In order to achieve this, it is necessary that such things as the occurrence of accidents in the world heritage sites are reduced (Yale 1991; Wall 1997). Therefore, safety becomes a priority, resulting in a declined perception of risks by the visitors. This in return leads to a rise in the number of visitors.

Another way through which the management of heritage sites seeks to ensure the safety of their visitors is by way of better informing them on a need to conserve the sites (Pomple & Lavery 1993; Russo 2001). There is still a large number of visitors who are still not aware of the reasons behind the preservations and conservation of heritage sites, even as such visitors gets to visit them on a regular basis (Robson 1993; Newby 1994). This has been attributed to a lack of information.

When the visitors’ traffic to World Heritage Sites are not well managed, problems of over-crowding, congestion ands queues may result. This is because most visitors to these sites come in the form of ‘guided tour groups’ that involves large motorcades of tourist vans and human traffic (Johnson & Thomas 1995; Jansen-Verbeke & Lievois 1999). It would therefore be expected that these large number of vehicles and human traffic frequenting historical sites not only results in a pollution of the heritage environment, but also hinders the visitor’s experience at these sites.

How do heritage protection measures influence visitor’s pre-visited and post-visited perceptions?

If at all we are to gain insight into the perceptions held by visitors into the World Heritage Sites before and after their visits, the most ideal way of gathering this kind of information would be via a quantitative research study on a target population (Creswell 1998).

In this regard, the researcher wishes to conduct face-to-face interviews with the visitors to the identified World Heritage Sites. This is with a view to gathering their perception as regards these sites. In addition, such face-to-face interviews shall also assist this researcher in uncovering the expectations that the visitors to these World Heritage Sites have of them. It would be expected that the visitors would look forward to getting a value for their money and this can only emerge if their views are sought before they actually get to witness such a site. On the other hand, the satisfaction that visitors get after a visit to World Heritage Sites can only be sought by conducting a post-visit face-to-face interview with such visitors, at least from the context of this study.

There appears to be a need within the heritage sector to have an insight into the expectations and perceptions of the visitors, before or after a visit to such sites. According to Mowforth and Munt (1998), site managers and researchers alike perceive visitors to their sites as ‘homogenous’ in their expectations and preferences. There seems to be limited research on the studies that address the expectations of visitors to heritage sites, as well as an interpretation of the same (Prentice 1993; Leask, & Golding 1996).

Nonetheless, few research studies shows evidence that various individuals exhibit interests in various forms of interpretation (Stewart, Hayward, Devlin & Kirby 1998). These authors have identified four types of visitors on the basis of the interpretative media they so chose to utilize, as well as the form of information which is of interest to them (‘Stumbler, seekers, shunner and shadowers’).

Bruner (1996), who assessed visitors that paid a visit to Elmina Castel (Ghana), observed that various visitors show interest to various elements of the interpretation; based on the skewed meaning such a site appears to hold. For instance, Dutch visitors to the Evmina Castle were observed by Bruner (1996) to be more inclined to paying a visit to the Dutch cemetery, as well as listening to the tales on the Dutch rein. On the other hand, visitors from Britain showed more interested in the time when their country had colonized Ghana, then referred to as Gold Coast. At the moment, heritage sites provide similar interpretations to visitors, by presuming that all visitors are homogenous.

Relationship between visitors and heritage managers

Mutual communication

The number of tourists visiting world heritage sites is on the rise. In the process, this increase brings various challenges to the heritage sites, such as wear-and-tear, not to mention the consequences of a big number of visitors tends to have, with regard to their “spirit of place” (Hall & Page 2000). Due to these factors, the managers of heritage sites are aggressively seeking for ways to strike a balance between conservation, visitors’ rights, and the plight of local communities (Hall 2000).

There are quite several ways through which world heritage sites could benefit from the visitors that frequents them. One way is through extra funds that go towards their conservation. In addition, it is also easier to elevate the profile of such sites. These two methods lead to an enhanced government support for the sector. Moreover, when the local community witnesses the economic benefits accruing from such sites, there is a high likelihood that they too, will be more enlightened on the need for conserving such sites (Guaraldo 1996).

Previously, the world historical sites have been hampered by inadequate funding, with a majority of them gaining financial support from either the international or national public sector. Currently, this trend appears to be changing, with the civil society being targeted for contributing to their management The participation of such groups may be achieved to assist in enhanced ‘non-damaging forms’ of utilizing these assists for generating revenue. In a majority of the places, this means tourism (Englemann 1999).

Tourism, in the context of the world heritage sites, ought to be of mutual benefit to both the heritage sites and the visitors alike. On the one hand, the visitors, by paying a fee to access the sites, contribute to the revenues of the sites (Curtis 1998). On the other hand, it is the duty of the heritage sites manages to ensure that the visitors to the sites get a value for their money, in addition to an unmatched experience. This way, the visitors may make return visits to these same sites in future, or even bring their friends along.

Feasible partnership

The heritage industry has been depicted as being in a fragmented nature, and this has in return enhanced a need for collaboration and planning in heritage planning (Hall et al 1994; 2000; Roberts and Simpson 1999), with a wide range of stakeholders showing a lot of interest about investing in this promising sector (Ladkin and Bertramini 2002). Collaboration and cooperation are turning into key issues in the management of the heritage industry, and they have also been associated with sustaining this sector (Bramwell and Lane 1999; Hall 2000; Selin 1999; Timothy 1999), and within a framework of community-based tourism, participation and integration (Mitchell and Reid 2001; Tosun 2000).

An identification of valid stakeholders is thus a critical (Roberts and Simpson 1999) and complicated process (Reed 1997). The main aim is to ensure that all the interested parties gets involved in the management of the heritage sector (Mowforth and Munt 1998; Wahab and Pigram 1997; Jamal and Getz 1995). In effect, this acts as the stepping stone to the process of collaboration (Timothy 1999). The association between tourism and heritage has been documented adequately (Ashworth 2000; Garrod and Fyall 2000; Prentice 1993a; 1993b), with the local community being identified as the custodian and owners of as heritage sites within their vicinity (Peters 1999; Nuryanti 1996; Serageldin 1996).

Most of the heritage sites suffer from a basic shortage of resources, funding, and expertise. This is in spite of the fact that the World Heritage Convention seeks to enhance global cooperation, expertise, knowledge exchange and funding (Reed 1997; Peters 1999). As such, there appears to be conflict between on the one hand, attempts by the heritage site managers to preserve and conserve their sites, and the activities of the visitors that frequent such sites, on the other hand.

An acknowledgement of this from of conflict is necessary, along with a recognition that revenues needs to be generated so that the resources of heritage sites may be sustained, and attain the expectations of the visitors (Butler 1999; Bramwell & Sharman 1999). Currently, the heritage industry in a majority of the counties is undergoing a profound change period with regard to the support it gets from the central government.

As an appreciation to this problem, there is a need to engage private partners to invest in this sector, fro the sake of an appropriate future management of heritage sites. In addition, this is the only way to ensure that the preservation and conservation efforts of these sites are adhered to, so that the future generations can take pride in the heritage that we are also enjoying today.

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