The World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH) has set its sights on Africa, as the history of the continent attracts a growing number of tourists from across the world.

The association was formed to prepare and protect indigenous cultures, heritage and historic sites worldwide from overtourism, a momentum being driven by the growing trend of travellers to seek ‘authentic, unique experiences’, and seeking destinations that deliver on these expectations.

In emerging countries in particular, cultural and heritage destinations do not always have development strategies and policy frameworks in place to manage burgeoning growth in tourism arrivals.

“Tourism risks being a victim of its own success if not done correctly,” says founder and CEO of WTACH, Chris Flynn. “We are already witnessing some of the world’s most treasured destinations, historic and cultural sites facing the challenge of increasing visitor numbers. The consequences of continued escalation in global tourist arrivals cannot, therefore, be understated. Tourism is not a product; it is a complex eco-system of products and services. As well as access to the experiences they crave, tourists consume precious and often fragile resources. They also generate costs e.g. waste and long-term damage such as major social and cultural disruption.”

Carolyn Childs, CEO of MyTravelResearch.com, and a member of the WTACH advisory specialising in analysing data and trends, adds that a unique image can ‘create’ a destination in moments – often leaving it unprepared or wrong-footed.  “This is particularly true if the image runs counter to cultural values. It risks tourism losing its ‘social licence’ with host communities. Ironically, these ‘instadestinations’ risk destroying the very thing travellers are seeking.”

CHT potential in Africa

Flynn says southern and East Africa have tremendous opportunity in terms of their cultural and heritage offerings, but a broad dialogue with local industry stakeholders, government departments, and local communities needs to be initiated to develop workable plans for responsible tourism development.

Fifteen specialist advisers from diverse backgrounds relating to the culture and heritage tourism sector, will work with destinations that need help now, or want to put plans in place to mitigate any negative impacts.

“We look to working with southern and Eastern African destinations in the future to assist them develop the CHT sector responsibly and in ways that will protect their cultures, historical and ancestral assets, traditional practices and beliefs, not just for tourists today to marvel at, but more importantly, for their future generations to celebrate and live by,” concludes Flynn.