Balancing Tourism and World Heritage at the Montreal Round Table

From March 15 to 17th, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the 2017 Montreal Round Table, Balancing Tourism and Heritage Conservation: A World Heritage Context. The event was organized by Christina Cameron, the Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage (School of Architecture, Faculté de l’aménagement, Université de Montréal). As the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2017 to be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the topic of the Round Table was particularly timely.

One presentation I was particularly interested in as the Susan Buggey Cultural Landscape Fellow was Nora Mitchell’s analysis of the role of tourism in the conservation of World Heritage cultural landscapes, or “organically evolved continuing landscapes.” In addition to examining broader trends in rural places such as economic issues, aging populations and youth leaving the area, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras was presented as a case study of using tourism as a complement to traditional agriculture.

Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, © Patrick Venenoso/UNESCO

Following a decline in the integrity of the terraces, the site was inscribed to the World Heritage In Danger List in 2001; it was over 10 years until it was taken off this list in 2012. A community-based conservation strategy was implemented with the assistance of Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, a local nongovernmental organization. New approaches to incorporating sustainable tourism include the local Ifugao community providing homestays and meals for visitors (which local farmers would provide the vegetables and livestock for), ensuring youth associations are active partners to engage the younger generation, and reviving cultural traditions and agricultural activities.

The theme of increased community involvement, capacity building and new partnerships is one that surfaced throughout the Round Table. The residents in and around World Heritage sites are being considered at a level that may not have occurred in the past. This was evident in the student session on Venice and its Lagoon, when four of the six presenters focused on social and cultural issues (my presentation included.) Over dinner, participants continued these important discussions about the evolution of our field, and whether a new view was emerging. Another theme of interest, as a Willowbank student learning hands-on skills, included how to incorporate appropriate design, materials and craftsmanship into management planning.

Chloe Richer presenting at the student session on Venice and its Lagoon.

As Willowbank was able to send three second year students to the event, we had fantastic classes on tourism and world heritage with both first and second years leading up to, and following, the Round Table. This lead to interesting discussions within the Willowbank community regarding whether there is a “tipping point” when it comes to the number of visitors a site can accommodate. Hearing the perspectives of several local classmates from Niagara Falls certainly contributed to my thoughts on Venice, although the sites are very different (please note that Niagara Falls is not a UNESCO World Heritage site). In addition to gaining knowledge on tourism and world heritage from a management role, I will certainly think more critically about my role as tourist when making decisions on where to visit in the future.

I would like to thank Christina Cameron and the Round Table’s organizing committee, as well as Willowbank, for providing me with the opportunity to participate in this rich learning environment. I would also like to thank Nora Mitchell for sharing her presentation and corresponding paper with me to facilitate this blog post.

This piece was produced by Chloe Richer, a Second-Year Willowbank student and the 2016–17 Cultural Landscape Fellow.

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