top of page
Image by Sergio Sala



The role of tourism at heritage sites in SE Asia affected by effects of global warming

Global warming and world heritage sites

Global warming is increasingly becoming a threat to many tourist attractions and climate change effects are putting many UNESCO World Heritage Sites at risk, according to Earth Org. The same source added that Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord is an example of the effects of climate change; part of it is experiencing melting predominantly due to global warming. Sea level rise, linked to global warming, is also threatening sites located at coastal areas or those near the sea.

Global warming and rising sea levels potentially create different impacts on different heritage sites; cultural sites (walls, monuments, palaces) and natural sites (national parks, volcanoes, hills, lakes). Identifying what the impacts are, and its deeper implications, seems to be next important thing for some in the tourism industry.

UNESCO implied that sites affected by climate related issues often have with them monitoring, mitigation and adaptation processes, and that the impacts of climate change are also on human societies and cultural diversity. Thus, the impacts are not just on the sites themselves; consider the fact that there are local communities, indigenous and non-indigenous, living within or near some world heritage sites who may see their culture and heritage at risk. For example, when they relocate due to climate crises and when they have to look for alternatives to things related to their daily living or culture and heritage because what they were used to is no longer available. 

Southeast Asia is home to many ethnic groups affected by global warming and rising sea levels.

9.6 million people in Southeast and East Asia were displaced due to cyclones, floods and typhoons. We need to consider that these also possibly affect world heritage sites. According to The ASEAN Post, there are three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Southeast Asia that have been affected by climate change. Vietnam’s Hoi An Ancient Town with its 1,100 wood-framed buildings is one of them. The very well-preserved Far Eastern trading port, which mainly sits no more than two metres above sea level, is prone to flooding and will worsen considerably with global warming and rising sea levels.

The Philippines’ Cordilleras is another site affected by the climate crisis. Agriculture in that area has been affected by climate-induced natural disasters. Frequent and intense calamities have affected the farmers in the Cordilleras. The Cordillera mountain range is also the headwater to nine major river systems that provide irrigation to Luzon’s rice-producing areas.

Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Communities in danger of losing their culture and heritage

Recent research stated that managing environmental impacts and those of climate change on cultural heritage has become an important topic of consideration for many. Perhaps, it is not just the tangible but also the intangible part of cultural heritage. Physical erosion, wear and tear from the effects of the weather are causing heritage sites to be damaged; many such sites are the representation of the culture and heritage of groups of people or communities living near the sites.   

More recently however, the heritage community have been emphasising issues of climate justice and the potential for heritage to have high ambition and make a more active contribution to climate action. Another research stated that most of the attention on the vulnerability of cultural heritage to climate change is largely focused on the United States and Europe, with very little such work conducted in Asia.

Southeast Asian World Heritage Sites are increasingly facing the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.

At least three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia are assessed to be very vulnerable to future storms and floods. Tourism can contribute to the increase in the resilience of such sites and that of the community against the loss. The tourism industry needs to think of ways to protect the culture and heritage of local communities near world heritage sites threatened by global warming.

Heritage and tourism managers in Southeast Asia needs to move away from pre-COVID type of tourism.

Tourism, climate adaptation and resilience

Regenerative tourism, a fairly new concept that looks at making places better than they originally were, potentially can enhance climate adaptation. For example, through encouraging local communities to come up with ideas that support adaptation measures while bringing in some revenues.   

Regeneration of places and culture through tourism, sounds abstract and vague but when understood through tourism activities that can enable conservation actions and initiatives to take place, probably appears a very feasible idea. Regenerative tourism can reduce the threats environmental crises impose on resources. Tangible and intangible cultural heritage can benefit from initiatives and measures that enhance resilience; regenerative tourism can enhance existing practices that help communities stay together.

Potential actions the tourism industry should consider

Tourism needs to increasingly consider specific adaptation measures that are able to complement the cultural heritage of local places and communities; tourism activities need to complement and even enhance adaptation measures.

Introducing tourist activities that complement traditional knowledge can support adaptation strategies and efforts to increase resilience in affected sites. There has to be much cooperation and partnerships with local communities and affected stakeholders. This is to ensure that the adaptation strategies are easily implemented by people in the communities and are specific to the needs of the communities and the areas. Add to this challenge, is the fact that many world heritage sites in Southeast Asia represent hundreds if not thousands of years of history and heritage, some may not work well with modern conservation techniques.

Tourism activities will have to change and evolve; some new perspectives will need to be instilled in travellers. Tourism companies will have to think of ways how tourist activities can reflect climate mitigation and adaptation measures, how communities can influence tourist activities so that they support mitigation and adaptation. 


26 views0 comments


bottom of page