Transformative visitor management

- building community resilience, adaptive and transformative capacities through visitor management

Global tourism influence the way we live with, appreciate and make use of our cultural and natural heritage commons. After years of focus on how to realise the upsides of tourism while managing its growth, Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerability of many tourism dependent communities. In efforts to 'build back better' strengthening community and individual resilience, adaptive and transformative capacities to collectively reconfigure and move towards a more sustainable state, needs to be in focus.

World Heritage Catalysis supports an emerging community of practice co-creating transformative change through participatory heritage governance and anticipatory visitor management.

To protect cultural and natural heritage values, most heritage sites and destinations have to manage use and visitation. While not yet a formal requirement, all World Heritage listed and nominated sites are encouraged to have a tourism / visitor management strategy integrated in their overall management plan.

But there is no "one model fits all" for balancing protection, use and development in and around a heritage site. Site- and visitor management, often constrained by tight budgets, therefore call for strategic and cost efficient approaches applying local knowledge and resources to address local needs.

The UNESCO World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme advocates an approach based on dialogue and stakeholder cooperation, where planning for tourism and heritage management is integrated at a destination level, the natural and cultural assets are valued and protected, and appropriate tourism developed.

The vision is that World Heritage and tourism stakeholders share responsibility for conservation of our common cultural and natural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value and for sustainable development through appropriate tourism management.

Policy guidelines defining the relationship between World Heritage and sustainable tourism adopted by the World Heritage Committee in 2010, specifically points out stakeholder responsibilities.

The World Heritage sustainable tourism toolkit offer resources helping World Heritage tourism stakeholders to identify and develop the most suitable solutions for circumstances in their local communities and environments.

Key resources include the Visitor Management Assessment Tool (VMAT), 10 'How-to' guides and international good practice examples.

Through World Heritage Catalysis these already available resources are not only promoted, but applied, elaborated and supplemented for the involvement of and benefit to a broader spectre of World Heritage stakeholders. 

Transformative visitor management

- an integrated, participatory and anticipatory management cycle

The following tree steps set out an integrated, participatory and anticipatory approach guiding visitor management for the protection of heritage commons and local community benefit.


1. Establish baseline / Assess and celebrate progress

Make use of the UNESCO Visitor Management Assessment Tool (VMAT) to establish a visitor management baseline. This will create an understanding of how site management currently is achieving against sustainability indicators specific to World Heritage, and what can be done through ongoing management activities (monitoring, budgeting, communication, capacity development and collaboration).

Upon regular assessments achievements can be identified, communicated and celebrated.

Visitor Management Assessment Tool (VMAT)
2. Develop and maintain the strategy

Upon the visitor management baseline, involve community stakeholders in a collective and anticipatory effort concerning the future of their community informing goals and priorities for the visitor management strategy.

Upon the identified goals and priorities, make use of VMAT to develop an integrated strategy including SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related) action plan.

The strategy should be considered a living and dynamic document engaging a broad spectre of stakeholders.

3. Implement the strategy

Strategy implementation should not only rest upon site management authorities, but requires a collaborative efforts involving all World Heritage stakeholders.

Apply the World Heritage Exchange Trading System (WHETS), developed in parallel with and complementing the UNESCO Visitor Management Assessment Tool (VMAT), to enable and incentivise  World Heritage stakeholders in efforts realising the overall vision set out through UNESCO and objectives set out through the strategy. 

World Heritage Exchange Trading System (WHETS)