Cruising to the world's most unforgettable locations

Unesco’s Ernesto Ottone R. explains to Alex Smith why World Heritage Sites have captured the imaginations of countless travellers, and how the cruise industry can help continue this legacy

Cruising to the world's most unforgettable locations
World Heritage sites like the Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India are some of the most visited tourist attractions in the world

Around the world, certain locations have played an enormously important part in the history of mankind and our understanding of the world around us. From the Taj Mahal in India to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Serengeti National Park , these locations of outstanding natural and cultural importance serve as important links to the past, and a valuable legacy for the future. It was to recognise and protect these sites that the United Nations established the World Heritage List in 1972, pledging to safeguard them for future generations to experience. Since 1992, Unesco’s World Heritage Centre has been the focal point for these preservation efforts.

“The fundamental mission of the World Heritage Centre is supporting countries in implementing the World Heritage Convention, in identifying and protecting the world’s outstanding sites,” explains Ernesto Ottone R., assistant director general for culture at Unesco. “This also includes safeguarding World Heritage Sites in times of conflict, supporting transboundary or transnational nominations with sites in two or more countries, and working towards a more balanced geographical representation of properties on the World Heritage List.”

As World Heritage Sites are considered to belong to the world, giving visitors unforgettable experiences is an important part of their value. Ottone believes the cruise industry has a significant role in helping to bring their stories to more people.

“World Heritage properties are the top tourist destinations in the world, but storytelling is key to bringing these sites alive and, through tour operators and guided shore excursion operators, the cruise industry helps Unesco continue to inspire visitors,” says Ottone. “One of our key tourism initiatives is our partnership with Seabourn, which supports the implementation of the Unesco World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme and Unesco’s efforts to expand, promote and preserve World Heritage properties for future generations of travellers. For Seabourn's guests, this alliance means that their travels are enhanced by deeper insight and behind-the-scenes information about World Heritage Sites and projects. Experts speakers with special knowledge about World Heritage Sites give presentations on Seabourn's ships, meanwhile the fares for excursions to World Heritage properties include a donation to Unesco.”

However, there is the potential for overtourism to negatively impact these sites, which are often vulnerable to damage.

“Before the Covid-19 crisis, the popularity of World Heritage Sites as tourist destinations was growing at a significant rate,” says Ottone. “However, the exponential growth came at an increasingly high price for both local communities and their cultural and natural heritage, which were straining under the pressure of visitor numbers. Key measures that the tourism industry can implement  to help mitigate the challenges include addressing the seasonality of tourism by spreading out guest numbers over the year, spreading visitors across sites and encouraging longer more in-depth experiences and limiting access to improve visitor flows and experiences. We would also encourage the industry to change marketing and promotion activities to focus on attracting fewer, high-spending and low-impact travellers who value culture and heritage, and promoting tourism products and services that reflect cultural values.”

Several new coastal sites have recently been added to the list of World Heritage Sites. Ottone recommends two that he thinks will appeal to cruise passengers in particular.

“The recently inscribed site of Paraty and Ilha Grande – Culture and Biodiversity in Brazil encompasses the historic centre of Paraty (one of Brazil’s best-preserved coastal towns), four Brazilian Atlantic Forest protected natural areas, one of the world’s five key biodiversity hotspots, as well as part of the Serra da Bocaina mountain range and the Atlantic coastal region,” he says.

“Another site is Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga in Portugal,” he continues. “Located on the slopes of Mount Espinho, overlooking the city of Braga just north of Porto, this cultural landscape evokes Christian Jerusalem, recreating a sacred mount crowned with a church. The sanctuary was developed over a period of more than 600 years, primarily in a Baroque style, and illustrates a European tradition of creating Sacri Monti, promoted by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation.”

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Alex Smith
By Alex Smith
17 December 2020

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