The World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH) has been formed to protect local cultures, heritage and historical sites that are in danger from over-tourism. This new association aims to promote ethical practices and better management of culture and heritage destinations that are now buckling due to unrestricted visitor growth. WTACH will also encourage the implementation of sustainable practices at locations that are still in the honeymoon phase of tourism development.
The creation of WTACH comes at a time when the UNWTO ( United Nations World Tourism Organization ) reports that international tourism arrivals have hit 1.4 billion in 2018, two years ahead of its previous forecast of 2020.
WTACH is the brainchild of its founder and CEO, Chris Flynn, a former director for the Pacific region at the Pacific Asia Travel Association, a role he held for 15 years. While there are over tourism abuses in economically developed, highly regulated destinations, Flynn stated that it is in lesser economically developed destinations where over tourism has a disproportionately greater negative impact.
To advance its agenda, WTACH has been launched with 15 specialist advisors from diverse backgrounds relating to the culture and heritage tourism sector. They will work with destinations that are currently in need of help and assisting in planning precautions. The WTACH maintains that tourism needs to respect host communities and their cultural and heritage assets by adhering to a framework that focuses on the host communities’ best interests.
Carolyn Childs, CEO of MyTravelResearch.com and member if WTACH advisory specializing in analysing data and trends, stated that it is not a coincidence that WTACH is being born at a time when ‘selfie’ culture and the promotion of ‘Instagramable’ travel is sweeping the world.
Social media as a medium that promotes ‘Instagramable travel’, is only adding up to the troubles at hand. “A unique image can ‘create’ a destination in moments – often leaving it unprepared or wrong-footed,” says Childs. “This is particularly true if the image runs counter to cultural values. It risks tourism losing its ‘social licence’ with host communities. Ironically, these ‘instadestinations’ risk destroying the very thing travellers are seeking,” she warns.
“The pressure on destinations and tour operators to find and monetise ‘unique’ and ‘authentic’ experiences will only increase as both millennial and mature travellers work through their ‘been there done that’ bucket lists– Having the right frameworks in place help communities and tourists. They build a more sustainable destination that delivers truly rewarding experiences,” she added.
On the supply side, WTACH believes that destinations should no longer make arrival numbers their prized trophy. Chris Flynn believes that before expanding tourist arrivals, Governments need to make sure that interpretative and cultural safeguards are put in place, consult local communities and also plan a scheme that actually involves a holistic government approach with the engagement of the key stakeholders and communities. Flynn stated that WTACH has more innovative ideas and are on the lookout for like-minded organisations and individuals to help us advance responsible tourism in culturally sensitive host communities.