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27 May, 2014

Siem Reap to host 1st UNWTO-UNESCO global conf on tourism and culture

The world’s first ministerial-level conference on tourism and culture is to be held in Siem Reap, home of the World Heritage temple complex of Angkor Wat, between February 4-6, 2015. It will jointly organised by the UN World Tourism Organisation in cooperation with UNESCO.

Announcing the event at the UNWTO’s regional meetings for Asia in Legazpi City, the Philippines, on 18 May, UNWTO Secretary-General Mr. Taleb Rifai said the event would mark a new era of emphasis on both tourism and its twin supporting pillars – natural and cultural heritage.

While all the other events combining tourism and culture have been held at the regional level, this will be the first global and ministerial conference on the subject.

“Without understanding the dynamics of tourism and its linkages with those two very important pillars, we can never advance forward,” Mr. Rifai said.

He said that culture and nature were interlinked in many ways. They are no longer about just preservation of monuments and forests, but about preventing many of the negative impacts such as the theft of cultural artefacts and wildlife poaching.

He reminded delegates that rising demand for wildlife products in Asia was a key trigger fuelling poaching in Africa. “The Asian market is becoming the trigger for this hideous crime and threatening livelihoods of families and households in Africa,” Mr. Rifai said.

Malaysian Tourism Ministry Secretary-General Dato Hong Peng Ong lauded the move, noting that it was precisely in recognition of the close synergy between tourism and culture that Malaysia had combined the two sectors under one ministry.

He complimented the UNWTO for its initiative. “Together with UNESCO, we (in tourism) can achieve a much greater impact for the benefit of tourists and the whole global community,” he said.

Cambodian Tourism Ministry Director Mr. Thok Sokhom welcomed the announcement, noting that it will allow Cambodia to make up for losing the bid to host the 2015 UNWTO General Assembly.

He said, “Culture and tourism are closely linked. Both also contribute to poverty alleviation. In Cambodia, 60% of our visitors come for culture.” He thanked Malaysia for its support.

Mr. Rifai noted that both tourism and culture are expanding beyond the traditional domains. Intangible tourism assets are playing a more important role, he said, noting that one of the UNWTO’s newest associate members is the Basque Culinary Centre in San Sebastian, a city which is reported to have the most owners and chefs of three-star Michelin restaurants in the world.

Citing the richness of Asian cuisine, he urged gastronomy centres in the region to also follow suit.

He said the UNWTO was focussing on niche-markets and thematic tourism such as Silk Road tourism in Central Asia and Spice Road tourism in India and South Asia. “It is one way of dealing with seasonality challenges in many parts of the world,” he said.

The global conference will be a follow-up of a regional conference on Tourism Development in Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites also organised in Siem Reap, between Oct 31 – Nov 1 2013. That conference showcased the cultural, natural and historical richness and heritage of the Asian region and presented case studies and country experiences.

Another Conference on Cultural Tourism is to be organised by the UNWTO jointly with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office in Mandalay, Myanmar in June 2014.

Other events have been held in other regions. An international seminar on Tourism Destination Management in Cultural Heritage Sites was held in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, in Feb 2014. A technical seminar on “Tourism at World Heritage Sites: Challenges and Opportunities” was held in March 2013 in Cesme (Izmir), Turkey.

A UNESCO/UNWTO workshop on Silk Road Heritage Corridors was held in Almaty in October 2013. That was followed by a roadmap published in Russian and English to outline a strategy for visitor management, site presentation and promotion along two specific Silk Road Heritage Corridors cross China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.