The role of Visitor Centres in UNESCO Designated Sites: Report of the first Regional Workshop for Europe

17/09/2019
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11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

The report presents the main outcomes of the first regional workshop for Europe on “The Role of Visitor Centres in UNESCO Designated Sites”, organized by UNESCO through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe in Palermo, Italy, from 30 September through 2 October 2018. Key insights into the Visitor Centres’ core functions and potentialities as well as a set of recommendations for the existing and future visitor centres are provided, based on best practices and lessons learned that were shared during the workshop.

The Role of Visitor Centres in UNESCO Designated Sites

What is the role – actual and potential – of Visitor Centres in UNESCO designated sites? How can such centres better contribute to the objectives of the different designations, and of the sites themselves?

The report is envisaged providing preliminary answers to these questions on the Visitor Centres’ core functions and potentialities resulting from conceptual discussions, best practices and lessons learned that were shared during the first regional workshop for Europe on “The Role of Visitor Centres in UNESCO Designated Sites”, organized by UNESCO through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe (Venice, Italy).

The first edition of the workshop generously hosted by the City of Palermo was held on 30 September - 2 October 2018, with the support of Fondazione Sicilia and Fondazione per l’Arte e la Cultura Lauro Chiazzese. The initiative was made possible thanks to the annual contribution of Italy to the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

The workshop convened with representatives from 19 selected designated sites (World Heritage properties, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks) across Europe together with other international experts and UNESCO staff. This interdisciplinary approach allowed for the exploration of specificities as well as common challenges and possible innovative solutions related to the mentioned designations, in their common quest to contribute to UNESCO’s mission to foster peace and sustainable development.

The report of the first workshop is aimed at professionals in Visitor Centres servicing UNESCO designated sites, as well as at their parent institutions and partners. Furthermore, this report may provide useful guidance to local authorities and/or other actors planning to establish new Visitor Centres. For these purposes, the concept of the workshop, the main findings, and recommendations formulated during the workshop are presented in 3 separate chapters of the report.

The first chapter summarizes the workshop’s preparation and focuses, introducing the work methodology and the three sub-themes, namely 1) tourism sustainability and visitors’ management; 2) interpretation of heritage and education; 3) community engagement and community-oriented services.

The second chapter presents the workshop’s findings with regard to the current functions and potentialities of Visitor Centres in UNESCO designated sites, as well as to the necessary conditions for the Centres to fulfil their multiple roles.

A set of generic common functions of the Centres were defined and divided into 3 main categories: information, education and accessibility. More specifically, the Centres ought to provide multiple levels of information which include not only the site’s values but also its historical, social, environmental, and economic contexts; combine site presentation with the transmission of values related to the different designations and UNESCO in general, including on global issues such as sustainable development in its education activities; and pay attention to the physical and visual accessibility of the site in order to enrich the quality of visitor experiences and address the site’s conservation requirements.

In addition to these core functions, the Centres were found to have a great and partly yet unexplored potential, especially with regard to interfacing, integrating, and inspiring. In particular, “interfacing” was defined as the opportunity for the Centres to facilitate the relationship between local and external actors, and between them and the sites, by negotiating needs, interests, and expectations. “Integrating” was defined in the double sense of the Visitor Centres’ capacity to serve as platforms for supporting participative and inclusive processes for site management and better connecting site management with broader planning programmes at territorial level, with special focus on sustainable development.

Finally, it is highlighted that Centres have the potential to inspire both internal (community) and external (visitors) audiences to critical thinking and responsible behaviour and thus to contribute to the progress of social transformation which is in line with multiple values of the sites, the designations, and UNESCO in general.

In the third chapter, a set of recommendations are put forward for the existing or future Centres to better perform their core functions and explore their potential. The recommendations are grouped into 4 main categories, namely Management, Activities, Partnerships and Contexts.

As part of the workshop’s conclusions, participants also recommended UNESCO to 1) continue supporting similar initiatives to exchange experiences among Centres, develop their capacities, and provide guidance for the establishment of new ones; 2) facilitate the Centres’ role in sustaining UNESCO’s and its designations’ core values, by providing them with contents and tools to convey appropriate messages.

Accordingly, the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe took the initiative to organize a second regional workshop with special focus on capacity building in the Interpretation of Heritage and Education for Sustainable Development, as one of the 3 above-mentioned sub-themes. The workshop scheduled to take place in Bamberg, Germany, on 7-8 October 2019 is organized in cooperation with the City of Bamberg, the Otto-Friedrich University in Bamberg, and the German Commission for UNESCO. Two additional workshops will be possibly organised during the next biennium, respectively focusing on the other focus areas.

Download the report: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000369983