Pascale Marcotte, Department of Recreational, Cultural and Tourism Studies, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Canada
Laurent Bourdeau, Department of Geography, Université Laval, Québec City, Canada
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to find out if Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), in charge of promoting World Heritage Sites (WHS), use the World Heritage label in their electronic promotional tools, and if so, do promotional arguments include considerations linked to sustainable development.
Design/methodology/approach – A quantitative and qualitative study was conducted of web site content created by local, regional and national DMOs representing 120 organizations of World Heritage Cities member cities.
Findings – Results show that Western European cities are the primary users of the World Heritage label in their promotional material. Cities that obtained their label less than ten years ago use it more often for promoting tourism. Concurrently a significant theme associated with WHS categorisation is the presentation of a must-see “tourism product”. Conversely the advertising contains little information about the protection of the site or sustainable development actions undertaken since the labelling.
Practical implications – Mostly a DMO communicates with tourists and visitors. It would be in the interest of WHS managers who work in partnership with these DMOs to convey why the site was labelled. Further, they need to demonstrate that obtaining the World Heritage status implies implementing sustainable development objectives. Finally, a better understanding of the economic, cultural, social and environmental issues associated with the label would help tourists appreciate their visit more.
Originality/value – The paper is the first insightful study of the World Heritage label usage as both a promotional argument and means of enhancing sustainable tourism practices.
Tourism; Cities; Web sites; Promotional methods; World Heritage; Sustainable marketing; World Heritage label; Sustainable development.
Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The objectives of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage (WH) Convention are to identify, promote and protect unique natural and cultural sites. Even though the Convention's main objective at first was to ensure the conservation of the World Heritage sites (WHS), the growth of the tourism industry now makes sustainable tourism practices a necessity (UNESCO, 2010, 2011a, b).
The tourism industry can generate serious preservation problems for WHS ecosystems, but it can also be a privileged partner in promoting their unique value. Primarily because of the social, cultural and economic wealth this industry generates. It can also contribute to the enhancement and protection of the sites. Obtaining the UNESCO WH label ushers tourism destinations into a select club of the world's great sites, and authorises prestigious international positioning (Marcotte and Bourdeau, 2006). By recognizing a site's remarkable and unique characteristics, the label would appear to help promote it as a tourism destination, and increase the number of visitors (McCool, 2008).
Despite evidence of links between tourism and WH, very little empirical and scientific data exists that shows the impacts of the label on the frequentation of heritage sites (Prats, 2010), or on its use to promote these destinations. Although the WH Committee is obviously interested in the sustainable development of tourism, little is known regarding what the tourism industry does with this interest. Considering these observations, it seems appropriate to question how a destination registered on the WH List (hereafter named the “label”) uses this distinction in tourism communications, especially when related to sustainable development themes.
Aims and objectives
The aim of this study is to assess the extent to which the destination marketing organization (DMO) – in charge of promoting territories where WHS are found – use the WH label in their tourism promotion, and particularly whether or not sustainable development is part of their promotional approach. More specifically, this study pursues two objectives:
- to determine DMO use of the WH label in their promotional web site; and
- to identify arguments linked to the WH label in these promotional web sites and to analyze those that are specifically related to sustainable development.
WH and sustainable development
A primary directive of the WH Convention (2011) is to select unique cultural or natural sites that are historically, aesthetically, architecturally or ecologically exemplary, and to encourage both their protection and enhancement. However, parallel with this identification site managers faced with increasing social, cultural, environmental and economic changes and impacts are increasingly integrating sustainable development into their plans and practices.
With the ravages of wars, natural disasters and rapid urbanization, over the past 100 years, national protection policies for historical and natural sites have been put in place. At the international level, a will to protect certain places became more structured in the 1970s, and finally caught up with the “sustainability” spirit, as it became called following the Brundtland Report in the early 1990s (Rodwell, 2007; UNESCO, 2010). For WHS as with many of the great National Parks, this journey drove major changes in management methods required for many sites. Added to the preceding pressures more fundamental reasons for protecting them also ensued due to the phenomenal growth of the tourism industry. It is noted that these already considered iconic and must see places, witnessed an expansion of international tourism arrivals from 1950 to 2010, “at an annual rate of 6.2 per cent, growing from 25 to 940 million” (UNWTO, 2011). Figures likely to rise due to them becoming even more attractive to tourists as international experts further recognize and extol their “outstanding universal value”.
Faced with damage caused by overcrowding on certain heritage sites (trampling, wear-and-tear, land speculation, commercialization, inadequate facilities and equipment), and a need to distribute economic, social and cultural wealth produced by tourism, sustainable development appeared as an equitable proposition. Since 1994, sustainability has been increasingly integrated into orientations suggested by the WH Committee. Besides the objectives related to the integrity and authenticity of the heritage site, promotion of activities contributing to sustainable development and, more generally, consideration for improved quality of life of the host communities have became increasingly important (UNESCO, 2005, 2010). Significantly, the WH Committee is currently working on implementing “a normative instrument ensuring the preservation of the heritage and the sustainable development of tourism” (UNESCO, 2011a, b).
Communication marketing as a sustainable development tool
Sustainable tourism should be a form of “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities” (UNWTO, 2004). Importantly the implementation of sustainable marketing strategies involves different tools or policies, depending on whether the focus is protecting nature (e.g. reducing all types of pollution), the redistribution of wealth (e.g. in a community) or cultural and social impacts (e.g. through maintaining traditions). These strategies must also be associated with effective methods of communication to raise the awareness of visitors and encourage them to adopt the appropriate consequential behaviours.
Recognized is that marketing is more than just a set of tools for increasing sales in the short term and ensuring consumer satisfaction (Siegel, 2011). Today's marketing strategies take into consideration stakeholders with whom organizations communicate. Targeted is the mutual satisfaction of both the organization and the stakeholders or public by focusing on the co-creation of value between the organization and the consumer; it is planned around a “social marketing” approach or ethic (Chhabra, 2010; McLean, 2002). Through its communication activities, marketing aims to carry out the organization's mission, which in the case of WHS, means protection, promotion, and educating the public.
Including the sites on a list recognizing their unique character raises their destination appeal and popularity. Perversely total protection of these sites would imply not making them known to the broader traveling public. In fact some particularly ecologically or socially sensitive heritage sites are subject to a “demarketing” approach to reduce the number of visitors (for example, see the analysis of the Ayers Rock site, by McKercher et al. (2008), Beeton (2003) and Medway et al. (2010) for de-marketing approaches). It is nevertheless important to point out that not all of the WHS sites have overcrowding problems and accordingly actively encourage and receive visitors sustainably.
Communication tools and marketing strategies do make a contribution. For example, the WH Committee recognizes communication as an essential tool for generating sustainable tourism behaviours. An informed tourist will be more likely to help preserve the area, accept waiting times due to controlling the number of visitors, or maybe even finance the protection of the site. Tourists generally understand the importance of a site, and normally can be encouraged to participate in its conservation (Tourtellot, 2011). As an integral part of marketing activities, the communication dimension, allows each site to be positioned with a competitive advantage, which is the label (a site with an outstanding universal value), while also informing tourists about the actions the destinations have taken to ensure sustainable development. The question is whether or not these dimensions are being used.
DMOs: the role of communicator
WHS have a wide range of structures and governance approaches. There may be, for example, a monument under the responsibility of a single association or a whole neighbourhood under the protection of a municipality. Not all of the sites have the means or the responsibility for communicating with visitors and tourists. It is therefore often the DMOs that inform visitors about the site. They are also responsible for creating and conveying an attractive image of the destination (Hanlan and Kelly, 2005; Hankinson, 2001; Pike and Ryan, 2004; So and Morrison, 2004). They could therefore either choose to use or not to use the WH label to demonstrate the quality of their area as a tourism destination, or to explain why the area received the label, and the behaviours required to ensure the sustainable development of the site.
A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the contents of DMO web sites was conducted to find out if DMOs use the WH label in their promotion tools and whether or not it is linked to a sustainable development argument. The content analysis of these web locations including linked tourism guides found on the sites provided extensive information on the image a tourism destination communicates (O'Leary and Deegan, 2005; Hallett and Kaplan-Weinger, 2010). The analysis of promotional tools is based on the principle of representativeness, according to DMO criteria for selection of information for those tools that they consider particularly representative of their region and appropriate to the clientele they hope to attract.
DMO web sites were also chosen as the corpus of the analysis because these electronic tourism resources now seem to be a major source of reference, for the DMO and for most tourists. These web sites are one of the main sources of information for tourists, whether used to search for destination ideas or for specific information about purchasing products (Choi et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2006; Singh and Lee, 2009). For the DMO, the web offers great flexibility by recognising that it is not an electronic version of traditional brochures; it is much more complex and complete (Kolb, 2006). The web appears to be as useful as it is efficient in its distribution of information, especially the effectiveness of mass customization. Its great storage capacity makes it possible to share a large amount of detail to individuals with just one tool, while at the same time; users can personalize their searches based on their interests (Poria and Gvili, 2006). Therefore, web sites not only provides useful tourism information (e.g. location, access, business hours, etc.) they can also support organizations in the circulation of information relative to visitor education and the conservation activities being offered.
Three steps were taken to identify the study sample of DMO web sites for the destinations to be studied. First, 120 cities were randomly selected from a list of Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) member cities. This random method was arguably the most suitable because certain areas in the world are under-represented on the WH List (UNESCO, 2008). The choice of analyzing historic cities allowed the comparison of territories, which despite their differences, are confronted with the same demands and management challenges (Roders and van Oers, 2011). From a methodological point of view, the reduction of the impact of external elements on the phenomenon studied and increased the homogeneity of the sample.
Second, the web sites of the DMO associated with the 120 selected OWHC cities were analysed. More precisely, 273 local, regional and national web sites were analysed. Certain destinations do not present three levels of tourism management, while other sites could not be analysed since they were not available in French, English or Spanish (Marcotte and Bourdeau, 2012). For content analysis, the reference to the WH label had to be explicit.
Finally, the web pages of the sites with an explicit reference to the WH label were selected (a total of 383 web pages) for a thematic analysis of the content. This thematic analysis was inspired by a pragmatic approach, in which the promotional texts were considered as forms of social discourse. The ensuing analysis was based on a deductive approach which provided an iterative process between the description of the content, analysis of the meaning, and the classification or breakdown of the themes. The excerpts were segmented using NVivo 8 software, and then classified based on their meaning. The different coded segments were then compared to ensure coherence of category and for cross-referencing between the segments (Gauthier, 2009).
Analysis of the results
In keeping with the study's double objective, the analysis of the results can be broken down into two major parts. The first part presents descriptive statistics of the promotional use of the label on the tourism sites, and the second provides the results of the qualitative analysis of the arguments linked to the label.
To assess how much the DMO use the WH label, a categorical measurement of the promotional use of the label was created. Then, after analyzing the content of each web site in the same way, three categories were formed. These categories represent the degree to which the label is used in relation to its appearance on the web site (e.g. visual presence of the logo or a mention of “World Heritage” on the home page, in the title or on a tab) and in relation to the prominence of the label (e.g. the size and visibility of the mention or logo on the web page).
The results of the analysis show that 21 per cent of the sites analysed do not mention the label at all. The second category, “light mention”, groups together just over 62 per cent of the sites that use the label occasionally or in which it is more or less visible. The third category, “important mention”, groups together nearly 17 per cent of the sites in which the label appears clearly, in a detailed and prominent manner on one or several pages of the site, or in which the label is spotlighted (e.g. with the definition of the criteria for obtaining it, a description of the site that has been given recognition, proposals for tourism products based on the WH site combined with intensive use of the logo or mention).
The web sites were also categorized according to their level of tourism membership (local, regional, national). The analysis shows that the majority of sites (46.3 per cent) are associated at the national level, meaning that these sites are managed by the country's DMO. The local web sites, i.e. those managed by municipal DMO, represent 26.5 per cent of the sample. Finally, the web sites managed by a regional DMO (province or department) consisted of 27 per cent of the sites analyzed.
The year the label was obtained for each of the recognized sites was also identified. These dates range from between 1978, the date of the first inscriptions on the list, and 2009. The sites studied were then classified according to their “recent” (between two and ten years), “fairly recent” (between 11 and 16 years) and “relatively old” (between 17 and 32 years) inscription. They composed 35.5 per cent; 30 per cent and just over 34 per cent of the sample, respectively.
Differences based on the use of the UNESCO label
The degree of promotional use of the WH label was compared. Considering the nature of the dependent variable of use of the label, χ 2 tests confirmed that there are no statistically significant relationships between the dependent variable of promotional use of the label and the variable of the web site's tourism levels (local, regional or national) (p>0.05).
There is a statistically significant relationship between the year the label was obtained and the dependent variable of the use of the label (χ 2=11,272, d.l. 4, p<0.05). The DMOs that do not use the WH label in their promotional tools are the heritage sites that received the label 17 to 32 years ago. On the other hand, the results show that the web sites linked to WHS that received the label recently, between two and ten years ago, use it more intensely for marketing and promotion.
Thematic analysis of the promotional argument
In a second part of the study, a thematic analysis was done on the content of all of the web pages referring specifically to the WH label. A total of 383 web pages for local, regional or national DMOs were analyzed.
The results show that when the DMOs mention the label in their promotional tools, they present it most often as a “sales argument”, without any particular justification. To be recognized as a WHS seems to be an argument in itself, sufficient enough to justify a tourism visit. This sales argument is illustrated by the words identified on the web site of the Québec City area (Canada):
7 Good Reasons to Choose the Québec City Area.
Authentic Québec City Charm.
Québec is one of the world's most beautiful cities and the Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage treasure.
On 28 per cent of the pages, the DMOs associate WH with one or several “tourism products”. The use of the label as a promotional tool is thus linked to guided tours or to a must-see tourism activity. For example, the web site for the Greek island, Corfu, indicates that the labeled historic centre is the most important place to visit on the island:
Downtown Corfu you will find important museums; the historic center of Corfu was declared one of the UNESCO Monuments of World Cultural Heritage in the summer 2007 and is itself the most important sight of the island.
On 27 per cent of the pages, the reasons the label was given to the site are highlighted, whether as a general mention, as found for the Central Bohemia Region of the Czech Republic:
Thanks to its tremendous economic prosperity, Kutná Hora became the second most important Bohemian town in the period from the 14th to the 16th century. This is reflected in the number of preserved monuments. In 1995 the historic centre of Kutná Hora was added to the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage List.
Often a detailed description of the UNESCO criteria is provided, as on the web site for the Italian province of Mantova:
Mantova and Sabbioneta are since July 2008 a UNESCO WH site. […]
The site has been registered according to the following selection criteria: Mantua and Sabbioneta offer exceptional testimonies to the urban, architectural and artistic realizations of the Renaissance, linked through the visions and actions of the ruling Gonzaga family.
They illustrate the two main forms of Renaissance town planning: the newly founded town, based on the concept of ideal city planning, and the transformed existing town. The artists that have played a prominent role in the realization of the two cities fostered the diffusion of the ideals of the Renaissance in Europe. Mantova and Sabbioneta meet the required conditions in their urban morphology and architecture, as have their most significant Renaissance works of art been preserved over time.
One fifth of the web pages analyzed highlight the unique character of the heritage site; its extraordinary beauty, its unique urban model, or its originality, as seen on the web sites of the German city of Regensburg and the Mexico Tourism Board:
Located on the Danube River, the Old Town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof is an exceptional example of a central-European medieval trading centre, which illustrates an interchange of cultural and architectural influences. A notable number of buildings of outstanding quality testify to its political, religious, and economic significance from the 9th century. The historic fabric reflects some two millennia of structural continuity and includes ancient Roman, Romanesque, and Gothic buildings.
Due to its pink limestone buildings, Zacatecas is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Mexico. Thanks to the city's splendid history and architecture, the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Look no further than the majestic cathedral, considered one of the most important expressions of Baroque architecture in Mexico.
Promoting sustainable tourism practices in conjunction with the WH label
Approximately 12 per cent of the web pages specifically highlight the role of protection and transmission of the heritage that the labelled sites uphold, while another 14 per cent of the pages emphasize the establishment of facilities or tools promoting the development of sociocultural and economic tourism practices on the labelled sites. Approximately one quarter of the web pages underscored the WHS label and associated it with sustainable development themes. For example, certain sites, such as those of the Japanese city of Nara, highlighted the intention of ensuring the sustainable development of the territory, without, however, mentioning any specific means of doing so:
Nara Heijo-kyo is now a World Heritage site and will soon celebrate the 1300th anniversary of its founding. Nara has been promoting local development with the key words of “history”, “culture” and “friendship exchange”, anticipating the next 100 years or even 1,000 years to come.
Other web sites are much more precise about the actions being taken. For example, in a document addressed to convention organizers, the city of Split in Croatia explains their policy on promoting pedestrian movement:
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Split's compact car-free central core allows you to move your guests between their hotels and the waterfront-Palace quickly and easily to maximize their productivity as well as their enjoyment.
Finally, other web sites offer advice to tourists promoting behaviours and visits that are respectful of the sites. For example, the Brazilian web sites tell internet users:
Preservation tips for visitors.
On your trip, enjoy everything that Olinda has to offer: visit the buildings and areas landmarked as treasures, the monuments, the historical buildings, the museums, the theaters, the art centers and the concert halls […] And take part in the local cultural events, in the parties, enjoying its dances and music, thus contributing to the preservation of those activities. Respect the historic treasure and collaborate in its preservation, divulging your knowledge to friends and relatives.
Cameras and camcorders.
[…] Many places do not accept the use of those pieces of equipment.
In the museums.
Avoid speaking in a loud voice, running around the rooms, or touching the exhibited objects in the museums. Many of those objects are fragile and may be damaged if having contact with hands.
In public spaces.
Table I synthesizes the main sustainable development themes cited on the DMO web sites. After having identified precise arguments in the promotional texts, these arguments were mapped according to the main themes and categories of sustainable tourism (economic, social and environmental impacts).
Leave the places exactly as you found them. Do not collect fragments or move objects from their places. If there are professionals working in the place, such as archaeologists or researchers, try not to disturb them.
Although certain DMOs make remarkable efforts, the qualitative analysis clearly shows that the sites that make the most reference to the label are European (Germany, France, Luxembourg, Spain), which explain criteria for receiving the label, establish neighbourhood interpretation centres and promote local traditions).
Discussion and conclusion
One of the main contributions of this article is the empirical assessment of the promotional use of the WH label by national, regional or local DMOs. Our results show that DMO web sites often use the WH label for promotional purposes, but most web sites could be used more to raise visitor awareness about sustainable tourism practices.
Since the WHS do not always have the means or the responsibility to promote their site to tourists, it seems relevant to find out how the DMO organizations in charge of the information and promotional communication targeting tourists and potential visitors, use the WH label. The study of promotional tools being used by the DMOs is also relevant because visitors base part of their expectations or their decision to visit a given area on the information provided (Choi et al., 2007; Hallett and Kaplan-Weinger, 2010).
Generally, the vast majority of the DMO web sites for member cities of the OWHC refer to the label in their promotion. The web sites of recently labeled cities are those that use the label the most for promotion. In other words, the more recent the labeling, the more the DMO web sites use it for promotional purposes. On the other hand, web sites for destinations that have been labeled for a long time make the least reference to the label. For these DMOs, the newness effect could be considered less important. The tourism actors, taking the label for granted, could be looking for other ways to make their destination stand out. It is also possible that the stakeholders who worked to obtain the label are no longer active. In the case of recently labelled sites, the efforts invested to get the site nominated and to develop a management plan, a recent element in the application requirements, would appear to be still influential.
The thematic analysis of the web pages associated with the WH aspect shows that despite the will of UNESCO to use tourism communication to raise tourist awareness and to encourage sustainable behaviours, tourists are given relatively little information about the policies or measures in place to ensure the sustainable development of WH site. In other words, the promotional use of the label on DMO web sites is often not linked to sustainability. The WH label in the tourism industry is used more as an argument of distinction (e.g. the site is recognized by an international organization and is therefore worth visiting), or to promote tourism activities (e.g. guided tours offered in the labeled area), but less clearly in terms of the sustainable development actions that go along with the labeling.
The WH label can certainly serve the tourism industry as an argument of distinction for the destination, but the heritage sites can also be used as promotional tools for sustainable tourism activities that respect the integrity of the site, favouring profit sharing and the promotion of local culture and traditions. Social or ethical marketing, or even “demarketing” can help put the site on the map, but it can also contribute to the orientation of the tourism demand in order to influence tourist behaviour (Beeton, 2003; Medway and Warnaby, 2008; McLean, 2002). Accordingly DMO web sites often use the WH label for promotional purposes, but efforts still need to be made to increase the promotion of sustainable tourism practices.
Table ISustainable development themes associated with the WH label in tourism promotion
The following elements were required: use of the WH Centre logo (The UNESCO logo block is composed of three parts: a pictogram made up of a square representing a man-made shape, which opens onto a circle representing nature, to symbolize the interdependence between nature and culture), the UNESCO logo (the emblem represented by the temple, inside of which appears the UNESCO acronym, the complete name of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – in several languages – and a dotted line), beside which terms such as “World Heritage Centre”, “World Heritage List”, “UNESCO World heritage site”, “Sites du patrimoine mondial”, “Liste du patrimoine mondial”, “Patrimonio de la Humanidad”, “Patrimonio de la Humanidad por la UNESCO”.
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About the authors
Pascale Marcotte, a Professor in the Department of Recreational, Cultural and Tourism Studies, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, where she heads studies in the field of Recreation. Between marketing and sociology, she is particularly interested in the behaviour of tourism and cultural consumers. Pascale Marcotte is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: Pascale.Marcotte@uqtr.ca
Laurent Bourdeau is a Full Professor at the Geography Department of Laval University (Canada). He holds a doctorate (PhD) in Marketing and is interested in studying sustainable tourism values and marketing in national parks and heritage sites.