ASEAN World Heritage Summit Looks at Strengthening Heritage Consciousness Among People

UNESCO, Heritage, ASEAN, Sukhothai, World Heritage Sites

ASEAN has 38 official UNESCO World Heritage Sites but many more heritage areas could be added. The first ASEAN World Heritage Summit hosted in Sukhothai looked at ways to not only protect and enhance heritage in the region but also to infuse into people’s minds that this is also part of their life and their roots. 

Sukhothai, one of the five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand, played host for the first ASEAN World Heritage Summit. An initiative supported by the Thai government through Thai agency DASTA (Designated Area for Sustainable Tourism Administration).  Over 100 stakeholders and ASEAN professionals (in the field of heritage management, culture, art and tourism) shared their best practices and together discussed ways to create sense of ownerships among local communities and the mechanisms to engage young generation to preserve the “Outstanding Universal Value” of heritage.

“They are to little sites on the World Heritage List coming from ASEAN. To little and to slow. They are another 20 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list for 20 years now!” stated Thailand Minister of Tourism and Sports Weerasak Kowsurat. “Heritage is more than just a place of national importance. It is a real driver to preserve landscapes, revitalize historical towns and give pride to local people. We need to invest in our young generation to make them understanding that their future comes also from their history and the transmission of our heritage. We all share that responsibility, ” added the Minister.

Minister’s vision was shared by all speakers at the Summit. As an example, Munawati BT Yaacob, Deputy Under Secretary for Culture Policy Division at the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture of Malaysia indicated that the newly elected government wants to give new impulses to heritage protection. ” For too long, Malaysians believed that only the government is able to protect culture. We unfortunately did not provide the education background and knowledge to people to feel involved. The government wants now to integrate in the education system programs to safeguard our cultural heritage. And also have a more holistic approach to heritage conservation,” she described.

Thai Minister Weerasak Kowsurat actually highlighted an important issue. In a region which is more turned into modernity -and consequently reject often history-linked places as “out-of-touch-with-the-present”, it is a real challenge to raise people’s consciousness over their heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Shigeru Aoyagi, Director UNESCO Bangkok Office

“We need to protect the region’s heritage and at the same time fostering creativity. This will also help to alleviate the problem that heritage is confronted when facing tourism pressure. Good management is then also necessary,” explained Shigeru Aoyagi, Regional Director of UNESCO for Asia Pacific.

DASTA, UNESCO, ASEAN representatives and all key actors during the summit agreed that a regular dialogue should be created which will enable the two cross-sectors from cultural and heritage management and tourism to discuss how to strengthen the protection of ASEAN World Heritage sites and how to mitigate the impacts from tourism growth in the area. Examples were given over the management of the iconic World Heritage Sites of Angkor and Halong Bay.

APSARA Authority in Cambodia is relocating commercial activities in dedicated areas to keep away shops from the temples area. In Halong Bay, the government is implementing an eco-label for the boats cruising in the bay to limit environmental damages. According to Professor Nguyen Duc Hoa Cuong, Faculty of Management and Tourism in Hanoi, some 500 boats are providing in high season up to 200 overnights cruises in the famed bay. Garbage and waste in the water, pollution, depleting fauna and flora resources are the most visible consequences of this tourism boom, which brings some six million of tourists every year in the area…

Dr. Nalikatibhag Sangsnit, DASTA’s Director-General explained that, “the only way we could protect our heritage is to engage local communities and young generation to envision their own future because the cultural assets belong to them. This can help to mitigate the contradictory evolution of development and preservation,” added DASTA Director-General.

“We should promote an understanding about power of living culture and heritage and enhance creativities for responsible tourism. Mr. Phloeun Prim, Executive Director, Cambodian Living Arts, shared success stories from Cambodian Living Arts. “We envision the arts and cultural expression as essential to a thriving future. Cambodian Living Arts’ mission is to be a catalyst in a vibrant arts sector, inspiring new generations”

Integrating young generations into the process of preserving heritage and traditions was demonstrated during the Summit. Over 200 young Thai from a performing arts college created living culture through their performance. Culinary heritage was also part of the experience with gastronomy creations by young local artisan chef Black and his team from Blackitch restaurant in Chiang Mai.

As a result of the summit, the participants made the following recommendations:

  1. Empower communities for inclusiveness in managing the sites
  2. Enhance creativities for responsible tourism in the World heritage sites
  3. Embrace measure to manage
  4. Employ the balancing act between development and protection
  5. Engage multi-stakeholders to uphold tangible and intangible heritage