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Background

As the fastest growing and one of the most profitable industries in the world, tourism offers unparalleled opportunities for the economic development of local communities living in or near heritage sites in Asia and the Pacific. Throughout the region, the economic turmoil of recent years has led both to an increased reliance on international and domestic tourism as a means to generate revenue as well as to a deeper and more thoughtful introspection regarding the contribution of culture and heritage to sustainable economic development.

Where traditional economic activities are in decline, employment in tourism related activities can offer many new opportunities. Properly managed tourism development can help to stem the out-migration of youth and other marginally-employed members of the community, alleviate poverty by providing new employment opportunities, revitalise traditional building and craft industries, enhance both the physical and the intangible heritage and offer a positive, peaceful way for communities to express pride in their cultural identity.

Painful experience in many areas of the world however, has shown that unplanned tourism development, although it may be profitable in the short term, can do irreversible damage to humankind’s most precious heritage sites. Tourism can undermine the heritage value of these sites, despoiling them for future generations of inhabitants, students and visitors. The tourism juggernaut has the power to destroy the landscape with inappropriate infrastructure, force the out-migration of indigenous populations and cause over-exploitation and deterioration of the fragile cultural and natural resources. This vicious downward spiral also undermines heritage tourism by degrading and devaluing the very resources on which the tourism is based.

In historic towns and cities, where living traditional ways of life are threatened by tourism development driven by forces external to the community, local inhabitants can easily become side-lined from the benefits of tourism development. In addition, municipal government budgets and local taxpayers are unfairly burdened where the increased costs of site maintenance are not being compensated by increased revenues from the tourist industry, who are ultimately the users and consumers of the heritage.

Local communities, heritage conservationists and tourism industry professionals operating in this region are acutely aware of the problems confronting them, and in particular that the development of tourism as an economic sector is being threatened by the lack of articulation of interests and cooperation between the parties involved. Increasingly, these groups are seeking assistance from UNESCO as well as other bodies, to provide workable solutions to find common ground between stakeholders and to help develop models for mechanisms that will create a sustainable cultural tourism industry that is beneficial to all and preserves the heritage resources of the community.

“Culture Heritage Management And Tourism: Models For Co-operation Among Stakeholders” addressed these concerns directly and, using an approach that is in line with the Local Agenda 21 strategic approach, brought into play action plans for the sustainable management of heritage and tourism which have been built up from the community level. The project gave all stakeholders — and in particular women and youth — the opportunity to represent their own interests and play an important role in the development of sustainable tourism industries. Coming from a variety of circumstances and areas of expertise, partners - especially those in weaker positions, with less power - had the opportunity to learn from each other and develop ideas and opportunities.