Does UNESCO World Heritage Designation Pay Off?

53.5% Of Survey Respondents Would Not Travel To A Site Solely Based On Its World Heritage Designation

An example of China Danxia Landform, China's newest inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list

An example of China Danxia Landform, China's newest inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list

Earlier this month, the China Danxia Landform became China’s 40th inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list, receiving this designation at the 34th World Heritage meeting in Brasilia, Brazil. Although this achievement — which came through the joint work of county officials in a number of central Chinese provinces — is impressive, as People’s Daily writes today, it’s inspiring more tourist attractions in China to apply for the same designation, a process that’s getting ever more expensive and causing more Chinese to question whether UNESCO World Heritage status is actually worth the price. From the article:

What is the opinion of the Chinese public on world heritage declaration?

Last week, the Social Survey Center of China Youth Daily surveyed 1,784 persons on the Internet and the survey showed that 53.5 percent of respondents would not travel to a place solely because it is a world heritage site and only 24.6 percent said they would. Of the respondents, the post-1980s generation accounted for 34.9 percent, the post-1970s generation accounted for 31.8 percent and post-1960s generation accounted for 18.7 percent.

China now has 40 world heritage sites on the list, occupying the third place of the world in terms quantity. According to the Ministry of Construction, China now has 35 projects that have formally applied for world heritage declaration. It is lined up to the next century for the proposals trying to apply for the world heritage declaration in various places.

More than 58 percent people think a world heritage designation could indeed increase the local popularity, 55.5 percent of people think it could attract more tourists to visit and 31.2 percent people think it could ensure the places of interest are better protected. However, 27 percent of people think that a world heritage declaration cannot achieve these goals.

In addition, nearly 72 percent think that the world heritage declaration is utilitarian at the current time.

While the majority of respondents continue to generally look favorably upon World Heritage status, interestingly enough, 68% of respondents said they think it’s unnecessary to apply for World Heritage declaration to protect places of interest, and 74% of people think it’s better to spend more money on the actual protection of the places of interest rather than applying for UNESCO status.

Considering Xinning County in Hunan Province contributed more than 400 million yuan (US$59 million) to the Danxia Landform UNESCO application (and the six provinces included in the distinction spent around 1 billion yuan, or $147 million, combined) — money that could have gone a long way in improving tourist infrastructure or conservation efforts — it’s perhaps no surprise that survey respondents think World Heritage status is “utilitarian” (to attract tourists) yet the money spent on getting this status is better spent on environmental protection.

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