Can tourism exploitation of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) be incompatible with the UNESCO 2001 Convention?

Dublin Core


Can tourism exploitation of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) be incompatible with the UNESCO 2001 Convention?


Session 12
Some Challenges and Issues in Underwater Cultural Heritage in Southeast Asia


Tourism is a major factor of economic growth in many countries especially in developing countries. In 2010, tourism accounted for about 6% of Thailand’s GDP. In a way tourism is commercial exploitation. But is it against Annex Rule 2 of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001 Convention)? In the Annex, only active commercial exploitation –trading, selling, buying and bartering– of cultural material is obviously forbidden. Yet, there might be other passive commercial exploitations like tourism which are not stated.

Can tourism be an alternative source of funds that can be utilised for UCH site protection and management? Because of the country’s commercial benefits gained from promoting tourism, it can be argued that tourism exploitation is one of the commercial exploitations implied in Annex Rule 2. Additionally, for tourism, the sites have to be opened for public which may cause the tension to in situ preservation and physical protection of sites. Also, it could create direct effects, such as damage to the sites by divers souvenir hunting and treasure hunting, etc.

On the other hand, tourism can be a successful tool to get people involved and raise awareness which is essential in safeguarding UCH. Furthermore, under Rule 7 of the Annex, it allows knowledge sharing with the public but only when it is not incompatible with the proper protection and management of the sites. In other words, public approach could possibly be applicable only in appropriate ways. However, it does not expressly mention exploitation through tourism.

Tourism can bring good fortune to countries as well as many advantages for UCH. Therefore, the prohibition may lead to absurd and even contradictory results. Countries may find it difficult to find financial subsidy and raise pubic awareness for sustainable protection of UCH. Simultaneously, the public is unable to enjoy leisure activities and gain knowledge from the conserved sites.


Abhirada Komoot


November 2011



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