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World Tourism Association launched to combat overtourism

World Tourism Association launched to combat overtourism
February 2, 2019

The World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH) has been formed to protect local cultures, heritage and historical sites that are in peril from overtourism.

The new association will promote ethical practices and better management relating to 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 a honeymoon phase of tourism development.

The creation of WTACH comes at a time when the United Nations World Travel Organization (UNWTO) reports that international tourism arrivals hit 1.4 billion in 2018, two years ahead of its previous forecast of 2020. The global economy grew 3.7% in 2018, says UNWTO, propelling international tourism arrivals growth to 6% for the year.

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 need help now or want to put plans in place before running into trouble.

WTACH is the brainchild of its founder and Chief Executive, Chris Flynn (above left), a former director for the Pacific region at the Pacific Asia Travel Association, a role he held for 15 years.

He says emerging tourism destinations need more help. While there are overtourism abuses in economically developed, highly regulated destinations, Flynn argues that it is in lesser economically developed destinations where overtourism has disproportionately greater negative impact.

“WTACH works with destinations to provide development strategies and policy framework recommendations to avoid the kind of tourism meltdown we are seeing at Angkor Wat, Phi Phi Island and Mt Everest.

"WTACH’s position is that tourism needs to respect host communities and their cultural and heritage assets by adhering to a framework that has the host community at its heart.

“It’s time for the tourism industry to take step back and look at the long term impact of its decision making."

Social media and mobile devices aren’t helping. Carolyn Childs (above right), Chief Executive of MyTravelResearch.com, and a member of the WTACH advisory specialising in analysing data and trends, says it is no coincidence that WTACH is being born at a time when ‘selfie’ culture and the promotion of ‘Instagramable’ travel is sweeping the world. 

Childs explains "a unique image can ‘create’ a destination in moments – often leaving it unprepared or wrong-footed.

“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."

The desire for ‘authenticity’ in travel is also problematic, with Childs citing an AirBnB survey which found that over 80% of millennial travellers (and 93% of Chinese millennials) seek a “unique” experience and want to “live like locals” while on holiday.

Childs continues “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."

On the supply side, WTACH believes that destinations should no longer make arrival numbers their key aim.

The new association is deeply concerned that Turkey, for example, has plans to expand tourism arrivals from 40 million in 2018 to 70 million by 2023 - less than four years away.

Flynn adds “what interpretive and cultural safeguards have been put in place?

“Have local communities been consulted? Is there an actual plan that involves a holistic government approach and key stakeholder and community engagement?”

At WTACH we know there’s a better way. We are now seeking like-minded organisations and individuals to help us advance responsible tourism in culturally sensitive host communities.”

For more information visit http://WTACH.org

Images: Tourists visiting the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia (top) and overtourism in Venice (below).

Related Articles

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3rd October 2018 - Overtourism leads to indefinite closure of iconic Thai bay

13th May 2018 - Adventure Travel Trade Association shares report on trends in adventure tourism

12th February 2018 - Tourists to be banned from Thailand’s famous Maya Bay

30th January 2018 - UAE to host Asia Pacific’s leading adventure tourism trade event

7th July 2017 - International Toilet Tourism Awards highlight value of vital visitor amenities

9th April 2017 - Understanding generational changes the key to future tourism success

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