Jaime's rant... October: Wealth Increaser

Valparaíso, World Heritage in Chile
Today we start a new section we hope encourages you to comment and debate on the different topics for this conference. We do not want it to remain in Mahón among academics attending, so this little reflections will try to make you comment and share throughout the year, in order to keep the debate open and fresh.
October will be devoted to the theme "Wealth Increaser" and so, the potential of World Heritage to generate wealth. In this section, which I wanted to name "Jaime's rant", I will be offering my personal opinion (not necessarily shared by the organization of the conference) about these topics, always from a critical perspective, with the aim to encourage debate. So pelase, feel free to comment either for or against what I say, because wealth is in the debate too.

Graffiti in Valparaíso, $hile
I just landed from a trip to Chile. There I had the opportunity to attend TAAS, one of these conferences where we can debate theory from the periphery. Once we were there (the flight from Spain is 14 hours), we did the tourist and visited Valparaíso. I say this because, as a good project of manager, I take some interest in management and try to take an eye on everything I see around, those details that build the hidden image of a city (or a site). A friend recommended to have lunch in the old market, but the earthquake of 2011 left it allegedly ruined and now the shops and restaurants are scattered in the area. Particularly, five restaurants joined to open a new local nearby to keep working. We did not ask much, but one of the restaurant's manager started telling us that after the earthquake, the local council left them alone with no compensation and is now letting the market ruin and spending the funds to refurbish it in other enterprises they find more important. "Heritage!" She sighted... it was worthless for her.
We kept walking and found an abandoned neighborhood, ruined buildings and social depression. Looking at a map in the crossroads, we find out we are still inside the area protected by UNESCO. Something similar happens in the hills, where graffitis, colored houses and tourism (hostels and restaurants) seem to makeover the decadence.
A building lot in one of the main streets catches my attention. There, we find an example of community sacralization and patrimonialization of a traumatic space. In it, a kind of altar switches the words (humanizing heritage) with a clear critical background. Four people died in 2007 after a gas explosion in the building that occupied this lot. Apparently it had something to do with heritage, or so it should. Meanwhile people pray to them asking for favor, and according to the messages it seems to work. This heritage is starting to earn more value for me than the institutionalized, and seems to enrich people too.
If the manager of Valparaíso reads this, please explain what is happening. I have just seen an assistance truck for the trolebus that says "Heritage of Valparaiso".

Altar for the Humanity of Heritage...
One of the most enriching experiences in my life has been to work in Gondar, Ethiopia, another World Heritage Site I strongly recommend for its beauty... although this is another topic. The point is that in 2008 I had the opportunity to give a workshop at Gondar University to tourism students. It was quite successful and over 300 people crowded the room. One of my first questions was how many of them had visited the castles (the declared monument) and just a dozen hands raised. "We are just taught to manage hotels" they said... but not understanding why or what for...
This is how I started to develop the concept of the 'phantom tourist' that lands in the city to see a site and disappears like a sigh with zero impact for the community. This phenomenon does not only happen in Ethiopia, but in many other countries and World Heritage Sites what tells a lot about the consequences of managing for only some people, and clearly not the locals.

Gondar castles, in Ethiopia
On the other side we find those sites really well managed that actually revitalize a city, where the impact seems to be positive and people know, value and participate from a heritage that goes beyond the community but (also) stays with it.
We usually focus on money and tourism, as the main facet of wealth, but it should go beyond that. Tightly connected with the concept of value, that we still strongly debate nowadays, World Heritage should not only be an economic push for a state, but also a development tool for society (in terms of economy, but also socially and culturally). Two sides of a coin that good management keeps together.
Bringing millions of phantom tourist to a World Heritage Site is worthless, as all the befit goes for multinational companies and the state. It is true there is a wide economic impact beyond direct cash. The industry around tourism and employment are to take into account. When we become managers of an institutionalized site we become part of a political machine we are not used to work in (at least coming from academia). Rules change and there are multiple pressures from different sides. Besides, management focuses on the site and not the context, losing an essential perspective if we want our job to be socially committed. Because a committed management usually requires more than Administration is willing to offer.
This is how we come back to politics, to management models and the infinite cases we have. From the tight (and limited) state control, to private and community participatory models, there is not a 100% satisfactory solution for every case. But those shared during the conference must let us debate different formules to prove World Heritage socially useful for everyone.


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