How does World Heritage status affect World Heritage sites?


The acquisition of World Heritage Status has become very popular especially after its implementation by the .UNESCO whereby a World Heritage list laws compiled. Majority of the global heritage sites act as the major attractions for cultural tourists besides being symbols of national identity. The sites which acquired the heritage status were basically evaluated in an ad hoc procedure by advisory bodies and the reports submitted to World heritage Committee. The criterion used to accord the sites an ‘outstanding value to the humanity’ is a dignified one but it has become difficult for researchers to define. The acquisition of the status ought to meet one of the stipulated ten criteria and are applied with relation to the aspects of uniqueness, historical authenticity and integrity of the sites (Leask & Fyall 2006).

This study is a representation of the existing evidence for the effects of acquisition of World Heritage Site status on the heritage sites. It contained an in-depth analysis of the manner in which the heritage activities add value, benefit, damage and add costs to the heritage sites.

Effects of the World Heritage Status

The World Heritage status is regarded as an excellent player in contributing to the global common history in the perspective of cultural monuments and landscapes that are worth to be preserved. It is therefore important to acknowledge the undisputed and renowned positive effects of having such a status. In the .same capacity, there are also other possible negative consequences. The suitability of the status thus is formulated on the evaluation of the superior alternatives like the markets. It is of great essence to identify the requisite conditions under which the status is beneficial and the situations under which it may turn out to be detrimental.

Positive contributions

The main objective of the World Heritage status is to attempt to motivate the conservation efforts in a given area. This can only be achieved by motivating the local communities to increase their management activities and if necessary provide help in the case where the area is exposed to the .risk of degradation. There is anticipated drama tic increase in the tourism activities following the listing of a site to the World Heritage List by UNESCO. The lobbying process is an indication of the recognition by the federal l governments of the financial benefits attached to having sites in their country listed.   UNESCO ensures that the process is overboard and the reports published on the website in order to document any concerns pertaining to the negative impacts of tourism (Benhamou 2003).

The World Heritage List can be regarded as an aggregate global effort aimed at safeguarding the planet from eminent destruction just as it is the case with the global environment. This implies therefore that the enlistment of the heritage sites is a form of global ethics in practice.

The Listing generates attraction from the general public after being informed by the environmental and scientific experts on particular significant cultural and natural sites that need to be accorded protection. This also resonates with the media attention which [plays an important role in propagating the information o to a greater population. The inclusion of the sites in the List is a great honor for the nation concerned (Bonet 2003).

The increased number of public visits is a positive for the tourism industry due to the increased revenues concerning the site  for example the old town of Stralsund and the monasteries on the island Reichenau  have recorded a significant increase in the number of visitors.

The public decision makers are also aware of the significance of the specific cultural and natural sites in their nation. They have incentives to positively respond through securing the Sites listed by UNESCO both because they have been proposed by the Commission and also because they have an opportunity to gain prominence through committing themselves to the conservative role of the Sites in the List.

There is also an increased attraction of the donor attention. There is the conservation role that needs to be played and the nations may not be having the financial might to play that role hence the donors step in. These are mainly the individuals who offer finances for cultural or religious purposes for instance Club to preserve the Aachen Cathedral offers the opportunity for donors and well wishers to partner in protecting the site.

For business enterprises and profitable firms, the listing in the World Heritage List is an important opportunity for them to exploit the prominence of the heritage sites through business opportunities such as catering for the tourists or sponsoring the sites for publicity.

The listing of heritage sites also increases the strength of the relationship between the involved nation and the global heritage movement. The Global Heritage commission offers technical assistance for the preservation of the listed sites. This is beneficial for both the listed and the unlisted sites.

Moreover, the World Heritage status offers incremental advantages relates to nature conservation as well as achieving comprehensive support for the protected areas. The World Heritage Convention offers the listed sites a wide range of legal, informational, economic and networking prospects which have been improving over the years.

The Global Heritage Commission is listed among the most influential global apparatus for the protection and conservation of natural and cultural sites. There is an increased urge to meet the obligations required by the Commission as well as the scrutiny by the global experts and global community to the listed sites. This is key to preventing multiple otherwise economic projects which if undertaken would harm the national natural heritage sites.  For instance in Russia, Lake Baikal, the Golden Mountains of Altai, the Virgin Komi Forests, and the Western Caucasus, necessitated the regulation of economic activities for the sake of environmental conservation (Cleere 2006).

The World Heritage status is also affiliated to the national prestige and thus increases the motivation of putting a number of new sites under protection in order to increase the chances of listing by the Commission. As a result, in making preparations for the nominations in the World heritage, the federal And national governments have more often made decisions of expanding the current protected natural areas and also made efforts to create new ones (Cleere 2006).

The global heritage status is also associated with a wider recognition and higher profile fort the nations. The nations undertake vigorous measures in an attempt to popularize their natural heritage sites. This involves making printed promotional materials such as hard-cover album books, calendars, pamphlets and booklets. Different nations have also made clear their intention tom promote video filming and production of documentaries pertaining to the world Natural Heritage Sites.

The World Heritage Convention places emphasis on the global communities to participate in efforts of protecting the cultural and natural heritage of global value in the form of collective collaboration and assistance in the global scale. The Commission offers avenues through which the nations can request global facilitation for their cultural and natural heritage sites within their respective boundaries. As a result the World heritage Fund was formulated in order to officiate effective allocation of the collective funds (Amanda et al. 2002).

In a skeleton, the most evident benefits of World Heritage Status on the natural heritage sites include:

  • Increased guarantee of full preservation and integrity of the distinct natural areas.
  • Increased prestige of the natural sites and the respective authorities managing the sites.
  • Increasing the popularity of the territories listed in the World Heritage List and status
  • Greater ability of the sites to attract financial aid for the World Heritage Sites and more so the World Heritage Fund.
  • The growth of alternative natural resources use such as tourism and cultural trade
  • Increase in the organizational monitoring and management of the conservation efforts in the natural sites.

Negative impacts

The inclusion in the UNESCO List is subject to a number of undesirable effects. For instance, there could be eyebrows raised in the selection of the sites, overextension of the number and types of heritage sites, substitution effects on non-listed natural sites and destruction by excessive visits to the sites for instance the sites may become prone to terrorist attacks.

The selection of what natural and cultural sites should be enlisted is subjective since it is bestowed on the discretion of ICOMOS, IUCN and ICCROM. They depend on their intelligence as the experts of art history and conservation. Principally, all the sites are awarded equal value since the experts fail to establish a ranking system of the sites. They also do not conduct a willingness-to-pay in order to determine the value of the sites as recommended by the cultural economists. As a result, the general public does not have an in-depth knowledge pertaining to the sites hence the willingness-to-pay has no relevance in the selection of the sites. This has been the major reason as to why the legitimacy of the list has been questioned. Meskell (2002) finds out that the Word Heritage List criterion is faulted by the fact that it gives more privileges to the ideas emanating from the West which calls for the development of an attitude towards the primary culture with a European origin (Harrison & Hitchcock 2005).

Also, being listed in the World Heritage Sites is something that is greatly envied by many players since it is attributed to significance prominence and revenues hence it can be described as a ‘heritage industry’. Consequently, enlistment is subject to rent seeking. It is a highly political process since it is a worthwhile goal which the nations can personally profit from. This implies therefore that the selection process is surrounded by political pressure and is not exclusively determined on the basis of the ten criteria stipulated by the Commission. Although the main goal of the listing is protection of the sites for the overall benefit of humanity, matters of national interests overlook global interest hence the statement by Ashworth and van der Aa (2006) that the rhetoric is global and the practice is national.

There are multiple questions that have emerged as a result of concerns over the selection process. The Benedictine Convent of St. John at Mustair and the monastery of St. Gallen are enlisted, but the equally significant ancient Benedictine monasteries of Engelberg and Einsiedeln are not. To date, there have not been any explicit explanations as to why the latter has been left out.

Secondly, the number of sites on the UNESCO list has continuously broadened containing over 700 cultural sites, 200 natural sites and approximately 30 mixed sites on both categories. Rationally, this number is quite minute while considering the rich diversity of the planet. In the same capacity, so large a number considering the basic criteria for listing if the selection is appropriately made, the newer additions are more suited than the first selection on the basis of the decreasing marginal utility. Also, there are more sites which could have arguably fulfilled the criteria (Frey et al 2010).

Overextension can also be in the form of an increasingly broad definition of the earth’s heritage. Fundamentally, it was taken to mean specific historical monuments but the definition has continued to change with time resulting to political lobbying by political policy makers for their nations to have inclusions in the list which is somewhat odd. For instance in the year 2008 the French president proposed the inclusion of the French cuisine in one of the lists since it was ‘the best in the world’. Consequently it was included in the List of Immaterial Cultural Heritage (Harrison & Hitchcock 2005).

Thirdly, the listing also results in undesirable substitution effects. Once a site is included in the List, several actions that could be detrimental to the global heritage entirely may occur mostly related to attention and financial resources. Sites not listed are regarded as second rank. Much attention is diverted to the sites which are contained in the List. This is vindicated by the fact that the general public, politicians, the governments and potential donors. The tourism industry comprehends that not being included in the list could be detrimental to its advertising.

The attention generated from the bureaucrats and firms results in the funds from other sites being reverted to the listed sites. A vital requirement by the Commission for the enlistment is that the marginal funding is directed to preservation of a few chosen sites. The loss of revenues among the non-listed sites is more detrimental to the heritage in the global perspective compared to increase in the revenues of the listed sites which have an upper hand in .attracting funds from investors, donors and tourists. The overall substitution effect is realized especially in situations where the total government budgetary allocation is not placed at the same level as the additional allocation for the listed and non-listed heritage sites (Harrison & Hitchcock 2005).

Being on the World Heritage Site makes a heritage site more attractive and interesting on a range of factors. For instance the less explored heritage sites may attract tomb robbers to find out the treasures that could be lying therein. This will result in destruction and mutilation of the sites.

Additionally, terrorists who seek extra attention from the media seek visible and cherished sites as the major target for attack and the eventual destruction. The high number of visitors can result in the deterioration of the listed sites particularly in the cases where free entry is awarded to the World Heritage cities and sites for instance the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil which accommodates more than 10,000 visitors daily.


The attempt by UNESCO with the facilitation of the World Heritage Commission to formulate a World Heritage List with the most important Sites to humanity and culture is a major leap in the preservation of the outstanding global heritage sites which are important assets to the planet earth.

There are multiple positive effects resulting from the listing of Heritage sites particularly in the context of heritage, protection and conservation of the specific sites. In the same capacity, there are concerns arising from the selection of the sites to be included in the list, induced substitution effects, potential threats of deterioration of the sites as a result of excess visits by tourists and the vulnerability of the sites to destruction and terrorism.

The aggregate verdict from the analysis is that the listing is more beneficial in the areas where the heritage sites are undiscovered, disregarded by policy makers, sites that are not commercially exploited and in situations where there are inadequate financial resources, political administration and the technical know-how of conservation efforts.

The policy makers should develop alternatives for cultural sites that are popular, with efficient markets and the sites negatively affected by lack of inclusion in the World Heritage List. It should also be considered that inclusion in the List should not raise threats of current safe heritage sites due to excessive tourism and war by terrorist groups.


Meskell, L 2002, “Negative Heritage and Past Mastering in Archeology”. Anthropological

Quarterly 75: 557-574.

Ashworth, G J & van der Aa, J M 2006, “Strategy and policy for the world heritage convention: goals, practices and future solutions”, in: Anna Leask and Alan Fyall (eds.), Managing World Heritage Sites, Elsevier, London

Benhamou, F 2003, A Handbook of Cultural Economics, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK

Bonet, L 2003, A Handbook of Cultural Economics, Edward Elgar, MA, USA

Cleere, H 2006, Managing World Heritage Sites, Elsevier, London

Amanda , D, Kristant, E , Petrowski, C& Santos, L 2002 , “The Church Floors in Venice, Italy: An Archeological Study and Analysis”, Venice Project Center

Frey, B S. Pamini, P & Steiner, L 2010, What Determines the World

Heritage List? An Econometric Analysis, Institute for Empirical Research in

Economics, Zurich

Harrison, D & Hitchcock, M 2005, the Politics of Heritage. Negotiating Tourism and Conservation. Channel View, Publications, Clevedon.

Leask, A &Fyall, A 2006, Managing World Heritage Sites, Elsevier, Amsterdam


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