Global Cultural Heritage Sites, Tourism and the Economy

[Note on the author: Emily Cronin is Business Development & Marketing Coordinator at Barker Langham cultural consultancy. She was a student on the City, University of London Writing for Business short course which ended in July 2018. Emily wrote this blog as part of a homework/in-class exercise on that course.]

What impact will the emerging new cultural heritage sites have on global tourism?

In May of this year, I was intrigued to read about the development of the site and area around al-Ula. An archaeological treasure located in Saudi Arabia, al-Ula was once home to the Nabateans who also inhabited the famous city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jordan. The sites are famous for their buildings carved in stone; the architecture representing a rich combination of Roman, Islamic and Byzantine influences.

Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination?

As someone that works within the cultural sector (and has even taken part in a few archaeological excavations), I was surprised to have never of heard of al-Ula. I was even more surprised to discover that the development hopes to attract 2.5 million visitors annually. Most international visitors that travel to Saudi Arabia are religious pilgrims or business travellers. The country is not known for its tourism nor its cultural heritage – but this about to change, and the site is expected to have a significant effect on the kingdom’s economy. This made me wonder – what impact will the emerging new cultural heritage sites have on global tourism?

Cultural heritage benefits

There are many benefits that the cultural heritage sector contributes to the economy and for society. It promotes tourism, job creation, innovation, education and lifelong learning. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimated that the tourism sector (domestic and international) contributed nearly $6,000 billion to the global economy in 2011 (UNESCO). In the United Kingdom, £16.4 billion was generated in spending from domestic and international visitors in 2017. This includes £11.9 billion gross added value (Historic England).

Next on the list?

But what other cultural heritage sites are out there still waiting to be discovered? Most recently, the newest World Heritage Sites to be added to the list are Gobekli Tepe, a Neolithic temple in Turkey, and the Caliphate city in Medina Azahara, located in Spain. The awarded sites will certainly see an increase in tourism, and the economies in question could do with a boost, so the impact of these sites is timely and welcome.

Then again it is always worth being aware of the detrimental impact of additional tourist foot-fall on the physical integrity and environmental ecology of such fragile and important locations. So to fully understand the impact will need a lot more research and case study development.