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Who doesn’t know them: the Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Machu Pichu in Peru? The famous heritage sites that are on the UNESCO list. Heritage in the Netherlands is also on the UNESCO list, such as the mills in Kinderdijk and the Stelling van Amsterdam (former defensive line). UNESCO (a Body of the United Nations) aims to identify, protect and preserve heritage (culture and nature) for the future. These are sites that are of extraordinary value to humanity. UNESCO helps countries protect their heritage by supporting them with the necessary management, encouraging local participation and raising public awareness. There is also a special list of heritage in danger (World Heritage in Danger) that need extra protection. The survival of the 31 sites (there are 830 UNESCO sites in total) that stand up there, such as the Everglades National Park in Florida and the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, are at risk due to pollution, war, natural disasters, but also by uncontrolled growth in tourism. With the money from the World Heritage Fund, remedial work is carried out here. The international community is also being informed so that we can work together to save these threatened sites from ruin.

UNESCO is becoming more and more aware that the unbridled growth of tourism can cause irreparable damage to heritage sites. Due to its status as a UNESCO heritage site, the awareness of these areas and therefore the number of visitors is growing. Go to the Tuscan towns like Montepulciano and Siena, which is packed like sardines in a can during summer. You can talk about a paradox here: heritage sites also need to be better protected and visitor numbers need to be managed, as the unesco site status means more visitors. That is why the World Heritage Tourism Programme was established. The programme aims to use tourism as a means of preserving heritage sites. For example, by contributing to the protection of the environment and by allowing local residents to benefit from the heritage site, both economically and socially. We work with the travel industry to assist the heritage sites in setting up sustainable tourism activities. The travel industry can also help with its marketing: for example, a tour operator can offer an excursion to the heritage site, accompanied by a local guide. At El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Baja California (Mexico), ecotourism activities are being set up to protect the coastal lagoons, where the gray whale, various species of sea lions and endangered sea turtles live. With the help of UNESCO, 20 nature guides have been trained as whale-watching guides. For example, several ecotourism projects have been set up from the World Heritage Tourism Programme, in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Indonesia. For more information about UNESCO’s World Heritage Tourism Programme, click here.

The World Heritage Alliance is also active in the field of sustainable tourism. This membership organization was founded in 2005 by the UN Foundation and Expedia, Inc. to assist heritage sites with sustainable tourism. The main starting point is to involve the visitors themselves in the preservation and protection of the heritage sites they hold dear. Friends of World Heritage encourages consumers to be involved in preserving world heritage, for example by making a sustainable journey through Expedia or by making a donation. The World Heritage Alliance has a number of sustainable tourism projects running in the tourist yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, to save the famous Mayan Ruins from mass tourism. 

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