Culture, in all of its wondrous expressions, inspires more than 1.2 billion tourists to pack a bag and cross international borders each year. It is an important means to promote inter-cultural dialogue, create employment opportunities, curb rural migration, and nurture a sense of pride among host communities. Yet unmanaged, it can also harm the very heritage cultural tourism relies on.
Recognizing that a sustainable, approach with buy-in from all partners, is crucial to cultural tourism, peacebuilding and heritage protection, on December 12, the Muscat Declaration on Tourism and Culture: Fostering Sustainable Development was signed by representatives of UNESCO, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), delegations, private sector, local communities and NGOs.
This concluded the two-day World Conference on Tourism and Culture co-organized by UNESCO and the UNWTO and hosted by the Sultanate of Oman. Through the Declaration, some 30 Ministers and Vice Ministers of Tourism and Culture, and 800 participants from 70 countries, reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the synergies between tourism and culture, and to advance the contribution of cultural tourism to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.
“Cultural tourism is growing, in popularity, in importance and in diversity embracing innovation and change. Yet, with growth comes increased responsibility, responsibility to protect our cultural and natural assets, the very foundation of our societies and our civilizations” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, emphasized that we need to create a positive dynamic between culture and tourism “that promotes sustainability while benefiting local communities. This dynamic must contribute to safe and sustainable cities, decent work, reduced inequalities, the environment, promoting gender equality and peaceful and inclusive societies.”
Ministers from Cambodia, Libya, Somalia, Iraq and Vietnam discussed the role of cultural tourism as a factor of peace and prosperity, and shared views on the capacity of tourism to support the recovery of their countries.
The Declaration calls for cultural tourism policies that not only empower local communities, but also employ new, innovative tourism models that advance sustainable development, host-guest interaction, and cultural exchange. It promotes integrating sustainable cultural tourism and the protection of heritage in national, regional and international security frameworks. The Declaration also references UNESCO’s 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in relation to these objectives.
Ahmed Bin Nasser Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman, highlighted the importance of exchanging experiences and ideas to achieving sustainable tourism development. Participants shared best practices on issues such as community engagement, visitors’ management, and use of resources from tourism in conservation in such diverse locations as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, the Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates or the Palace of Versailles in France. Entrepreneurship, SME’s and the protection of traditional knowledge were viewed as compatible with developing sustainable tourism, with examples from India in the hotel sector and in other regions developing local food initiatives. Other examples included World Bank projects revitalizing cultural heritage for sustainable tourism development, and Seabourn Cruise Line’s partnership with UNESCO to raise awareness of World Heritage with their guests.
Following the first UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture in Cambodia in 2015, this second Conference was part of the official events of the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism, so declared by the United Nations. Istanbul (Turkey) and Kyoto (Japan) will host the 2018 and 2019, editions respectively.