The rise of World Heritage has been responsible for the rescue and conservation of numerous monuments to human values and endeavour and to large areas of unique natural environment and landscape across the globe. It has promoted heritages that have previously been neglected, for example rescuing cultures and languages that would otherwise have disappeared.

It has promoted heritage cities, contributing to their regeneration in some cases, and, directly or indirectly, major world sites for cultural tourism. World Heritage has considerable implications for cultural tourism and increasingly for eco-tourism, which are major studies in their own right.

There is no question that UNESCO and the other heritage NGOs have dramatically raised the profile of global heritage and are continuously seeking to redefine heritage beyond its previous Eurocentred and essentially western viewpoints. This now assists less developed regions of the world to raise their game in the World Heritage stakes.

However, heritage is not, as many believe, so much about the past as it is about the present. Heritage looks to the past, but it is something that is produced in the present for a particular purpose within human groups and societies.

Following on from this idea is the concept that heritage is a form of ‘representation’, which has the potential both to include, exclude or exploit certain members of society. When we talk about heritage as a form of representation, we refer to the way in which heritage objects, places and practices come to ‘stand for’ something else, whether that be an idealised sense of nationhood and its citizens, an ethnic group, or a particular set of histories and ideas about the past. For this reason, heritage is also about the power to control the past and to produce it in the present often for political or economic gain.

The many positive aspects of World Heritage are, therefore, often countered by these issues of politics, protocols and impact – particularly where the impact is negative on the very heritage that the legislation seeks to make sustainable.

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