Rethinking Relationships

World Heritage, Communities and Tourism

Authored by: Bushell Robyn , Staiff Russell

Routledge Handbook of Heritage in Asia

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415600453
eBook ISBN: 9780203156001
Adobe ISBN: 9781136582042


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Many consider the relationship between World Heritage sites and tourism fraught. Tourtellot (2007) in World Heritage wrote that tourism is the ‘biggest threat and benefactor’ of World Heritage sites. The ‘threat’ is not confined to the heritage resource itself, but extends to those communities organically connected to World Heritage sites, with the desire for economic wellbeing jostling amongst a host of other values (Staiff 2010). Tourism research literature has long been attempting to understand the impacts of tourism on physical, cultural, social and economic environments of destination communities. Staiff and Ongkhluap (forthcoming) evocatively recall the work of Robert Wood (1993) noting, ‘[he] wrote memorably of the governing metaphor dominating the research scenario: as though tourism and a destination community were billiard balls, each a discrete entity – tourism, the white ball hurtling towards a stationary coloured ball’, the destination then ‘suffering’ the impacts of this external force. The reality is somewhat different and far more complex. Destinations and local communities are not merely passive in the process. ‘Tourism’, ‘community’ and ‘heritage’ are not neat entities. Each is impossible to define, let alone assuming any consensus about defining characteristics, perspectives, behaviours or agency. Rather, each term is a reductive abstraction of what is very messy, porous, relational, contested and in motion (see, for example, Smith 2006; Winter 2007; Waterton and Watson 2010a, 2010b).

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