A conversation with Mr Kishore Rao, Director, UNESCO World Heritage Centre


On the occasion of the first UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture, held in March. I had the pleasure to interview Mr Kishore Rao, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre., for the Tourism Around Europe newsletter.  We talked about the highlights and outcomes of the first UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture, recently held in Cambodia. Mr. Rao also talks about how can tourists be educated on the local community’s culture, presenting the concrete case of the World Heritage site of Vigan. Asked about what kind of opportunities can be created by national governments to enable local governments and local communities to preserve their culture, Mr. Rao presented us the successful case of the Land of Frankincense World Heritage site, in Oman.

S.B. Which are the most important outcomes from the recent UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture in Cambodia?

K.R. The conference achieved an important milestone with ministers of tourism and culture coming together for the first time on a global scale to discuss news ways of cooperation. The Declaration that emerged from the discussions will guide our efforts going forward with a focus on policy advocacy that strengthens and promotes culture and the creative industries, while safeguarding and protecting the heritage assets which tourism relies upon.

S.B. During the conference UNESCO stated that “every tourist must be a custodian of world heritage”. In your opinion, what needs to be done to educate tourists on the local community’s culture and, at the same time, how can local communities be involved in the preservation of their own culture? Can you refer to any best practice?

K.R. We need a multi-stakeholder approach to educating tourists. There are opportunities at airports, in taxis, at hotels and in restaurants. At the physical properties there are entry gates, visitor centres and museums. The private sector in particular has a key role to play. They are often the first ones to come in contact with the visitor (tour operators, travel agents, online booking portals, etc). They can communicate and raise the awareness of the local culture and more importantly create tourism related products that are heritage based and support the values of the sites. By doing so, you can involve the local communities in the tourism supply chain. In most instance,s if the local communities are benefiting they will value and safeguard their culture. In the World Heritage site of Vigan, in the Philippines, the city invested in a programme of research and education across the city. This focused on the city’s history, traditions, arts, culture, and industries through brochures, e-books, films, newsletters, coffee table books, postage stamps, children’s textbooks about the city, a website for local people and visitors, and support for community organizations. Residents and property owners were given conservation guidelines (in a manual published every year) that set out the appropriate uses of ancestral houses and other built structures. Street signs in the historic quarter are now made from local clay, enhancing the local distinctiveness; properties and the public realm were restored; and administration set aside 1% of budget for arts, culture and tourism investment. There was a focus on community needs as a priority – this included measures to provide clean water to villages, solid waste systems, focus on health and sanitation, and developing roads to villages so that they could be accessible for tourism and other economic activities. Conservation craftspeople were trained and accredited, traditional industries, such as jar-making and weaving, were also incorporated into the school curriculum. A cultural mapping analysis study was carried out with the University of Santo Thomas to guide conservation efforts, and also to identify gaps in the offer for tourists. This led to identification of need for new products and experiences such as a river cruise, children’s museum, conservation complex (housing a training centre, conservation laboratory, research library, conservation materials depot, product development centre, and accommodation), and rural theme park to showcase Ilocano culture. The mappings also highlighted the need to find better ways to enable visitors to experience and understand the city’s heritage. The city created six festivals to enhance the visitor experience and benefit local people, and the local government created an environment in which the private sector could thrive and develop a range of other attractions and services.

S.B. From your experience which opportunities can be created by national governments to enable local governments and local communities to preserve their culture? Can you give an example of a successful case/ best practice?

K.R. Incentives are key to promoting sustainable tourism. Rewarding good practice is an important mechanism to encourage preservation and safeguarding of culture. Also policies that allow for socio economic benefits to accrue to local communities and policies that require a sufficient amount of tourism revenues to be ploughed back into conservation are two important areas where national governments can have an impact. In Oman, at the Land of Frankincense World Heritage site, entrance fees and monies made through the selling of goods related to the site, namely frankincense, are used to fund personnel and contribute to other conservation and maintenance costs – the site is not used to turn a profit. Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Aachen University, and the German Academic Exchange Service have joined forces to establish an architectural study programme at SQU – over forty young Omanis have now been trained in conservation and site management. Training local specialists is more sustainable in the long term as sites can rely on local, or even resident, specialist talent, rather than paying foreign freelance fees, which are often expensive. Crowdsourcing has also been successfully used to finance further research and excavation at Al Baleed Archaeological Park.

S.B. What are the main strategies and challenges UNESCO-UNWTO are addressing together? What will be next steps after the conference?

K.R. UNESCO and UNWTO will strengthen collaboration overall on culture and tourism and in particular through the actions and activities associated with the UNESCO World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme and our joint initiative on Silk Road tourism. Key strategies and challenges linked to capacity building of the different stakeholders and creating and promoting diversified tourism products and services that are culturally based and support and enhance the heritage values from which they are based.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *