Friday, June 04, 2010

Heritage vs. tourism

Heritage Key (Annie Waddington-Feather)

A detailed look at the damage caused to world heritage by tourism, and some of the measures that can be taken to defend against it. I've used a brief mention of the Valley of the Kings to shoehorn it in because it is an important issue that impacts many sites in Egypt as well as elsewhere.

Some ancient sites have more than 1-2 million visitors per year. Because of the size and location of the sites this might appear to be not too much of a problem; that is until you look at the degree of wear and tear. Sula Rayska of Rayska Heritage, a consultancy firm specialising in heritage projects, points out: ‘People always visit the most popular and best advertised. The lesser known ancient sites attract fewer tourists and get less wear and tear, whereas places like Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall can suffer from too many people.’

Even the smaller sites have their problems. English Heritage recently announced a scheme for an emergency excavation of parts of The Nine Ladies on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire's Peak District. Each year around 40,000 people visit the 4,000 year-old stone circle and recent soil erosion has revealed evidence of a 10th stone. Damage has also been caused by visitors digging holes for campfires and even chipping off pieces of stone as souvenirs.

Overseas sites are experiencing similar problems. Visitor numbers to Ephesus exceeded two million last year according Selçuk district governor Aziz İnci in an interview with an Anatolian news agency earlier this year. Three years ago there were just 1.6 million tourists.

Many tour operators are worried about this massive increase. Mike Belton, owner of Amber Travel, Turkey-based specialists in small group activity and custom travel in Turkey, comments: ‘The latest development is the arrival of the super-cruise ship that can drop 5,000 people onto Ephesus in a couple of hours. That is in addition to the other ships also docked and unloading and the regular round-trip/resort-based visitors.’

For places such as the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, which were never intended to have hundreds of visitors each day, visitor numbers are not only a logistical nightmare, but a real threat to the site.

See also the related story "Preserving Rock Art" on the same website.

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