How does a UNESCO World Heritage rating affect a tourist destination?

Photo of Liverpool's Albert Docks

All eyes have been on UNESCO, the France-based body that bestows the ranking of “World Heritage Site” on some of the world’s most beautiful, historic and otherwise important places.

In many years, the announcement of new additions to the UNESCO list is a cause for some excitement, at least in the travel world. But 2021’s announcement season has been significantly more dramatic.

First, the will-they-or-won’t-they tug of war between Australia and UNESCO over the latter’s discussion of whether to add the Great Barrier Reef to the official list of “sites in danger” turned into a full-on soap opera, complete with ambassadors going on a press junket.

Ultimately the Barrier Reef escaped the “in danger” designation, while the city of Liverpool had its status revoked completely, which UNESCO said was “due to the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property.”

With all the fuss around who will make the cut and who won’t, there’s one question that hasn’t been answered: Does UNESCO designation really make a difference with travelers?

How to define heritage?

With 1,153 World Heritage sites on the list, travelers shouldn’t expect a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Heritage” can be defined in a lot of ways, and UNESCO splits sites into three categories: cultural significance, environmental significance, or a combination of both. Among the thousand-plus names on the list are some of the most beloved places on the planet: Machu Picchu, Venice’s canals, the Grand Canyon, Angkor Wat.

The nomination process is painstaking, time-consuming and expensive. Many developing countries have sites that can and should be recognized for global importance, but they can’t afford the time and money it takes to put together a campaign.

“The minimum duration between nomination and inscription is two years, but it usually takes much longer,” a UNESCO rep explains to CNN. “Countries must first inscribe a site they intend to nominate on the Tentative List, which is submitted to UNESCO. They then have to complete a nomination file which must contain information about the site’s attributes and the management and protection mechanisms put in place for the site.”

This is an excerpt from an article by Lilit Marcus, originally published by CNN.

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