According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Tourism is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon which entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their environment for personal or business/professional purposes.
Today, the world’s movement of people is mainly related to tourism. It is believed that most travels of people are related to tourism activities that are mainly to visit heritage places that have special beauty, uniqueness and/or significance. These can be related to paleontological, archaeological, historical sites, religious places, cultural and natural parks and natural landscapes. Heritage is anything transmitted from the past, and it can be referred to as an original cultural and natural material, built environment, archaeological resource, intangible heritage and/ or natural heritage. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the world-wide significance and impact of cultural and natural heritage in the development of a sustainable tourism industry.
Tourism is the key to a sustainable economic development and helps to reduce inequality within and among countries; make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; protect, restore and promote sustainable use of cultural heritage, terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development; ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Hence, countries are investing huge resources on tourism and renewable energy industries to create a sustainable economy.
According to the World Tourism ranking record of 2017, the countries in the highest rank of tourist arrivals include: France (100.3 million), Spain (81.8), USA (75.9), China (60.7), Italy (56.9), Mexico (39.3), Turkey (37.6), Germany (37.5), Thailand (35.4), among others. Italy has a total of 54 inscribed properties, making it the state party with the most World Heritage sites. In China, Tourism is a significant industry and the Great Wall of China is a symbol of the Chinese nation. It is the greatest defense-structure project in the history of human civilization, and it is more than 2,000 years old. The Eiffel Tower of France is a global cultural icon and the most-visited paid monument in the world. Mexico is the second-most visited country in the Americas after the US. It has several world heritage sites, colonial cities, natural reserves and cultural festivals.
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates ranks high as a tourist destination. For example, Dubai got ranked as the world’s 7th most visited city by international tourists according to the recently released list and survey of Euro monitor in 2018. And the neighboring country of Saudi Arabia is ranked as the 19th destination of tourists, which largely involves religious pilgrimages. However, recently, the Kingdom has laid out to move its economy away from its dependence on oil and focus on renewable energy resources and tourism.
Africa, which is the world’s second-biggest continent, is arguably the best destination both for its natural and cultural treasures. The continent is known for its expansive landscapes and wild animal life that are the most inspiring destinations on the planet. It has a hidden treasure not yet known to many and among its most famous tourist destinations are the Sossusvlei striking Dunes of Namibia; the Mountain gorillas in Rwanda; the majestic water spectacles of Victoria Falls of Zambia and Zimbabwe; the ancient city of Aksum, the church of Lalibela, the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia; the fascinating desert area of Spitzkoppe and the Fish River Canyon of Namibia; the most unusual Nyika Plateau National Park and largest Lake of Malawi; the Makgadikgadi and Nxia Pans National Park of Botswana; the riding safari, the Rhinos at Solio Reserve and the Flamingos of Kenya; the lower Zambezi of Zambia; the Bazaruto Archipelago of Mozambique; the Nyiragongo Volcano, Virunga National Park of Democratic Republic of Congo; and the highest mountain of Kilimanjaro of Tanzania…etc.
In Egypt, tourism hit an all-time high in 2010 at 14.7 million visitors (for perspective, Paris had 8.2 million tourists in the same year). This shows that the economy of Egypt is heavily investing on tourism. Among the Egyptian heritage the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the wonders of the Nile of Egypt are the world’s hidden cultural treasures and are an all-time people’s favorite tourism destinations.
In North Africa, there are several places of cultural significance and natural beauty. For example, Morocco is usually recommended as a favorite tourism destination. The world’s most exciting town square, Djemaa el Fna in the heart of the old city of Marrakesh, and the Sahara Dune, which is known as adventurous and sport area, are fantastic tourist destinations.
The neighboring country of Tunisia is also one of the favorite countries for tourists in North Africa. The tourism industry of Tunisia attracts around 8 million arrivals per year. The country is blessed with several eye-catching natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage. Despite recent political unrest in the region, the country is considered one of the safest places for tourists to visit.
Within the African context, the land of Eritrea has several tourist attraction areas. Its climatic and geographic advantages in the tropics, the long (around 1200 km) clean and clear coastal marine territory and eastern chains of mountains, make among the few countries with hidden cultural treasures and natural iconic landscapes in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea is blessed with substantial amount of cultural and natural heritage resources. The country has numerous tourist destinations, one of which is the World Heritage and modern city of Asmara. The country is also known for its fascinating, jaw-dropping and unforgettable sights of both cultural resources and natural landscapes.
It has several natural places that are suitable for outdoor recreation activities. For example, the Red Sea of Eritrea is one of the least spoilt in the Red Sea, with pristine sandy beaches and abundance of flora and fauna — an aquatic wonderland and a diver’s paradise. The Dahlak Archipelago has beautiful and pristine beaches with corals, snappers, lionfish, sea turtles, dolphins, and coastal birds, dream places for snorkeling and diving.
Moreover, the country has several natural beauties worth visiting and include: the sand dunes in the northeastern part of the country; the country’s highest mountain of Emba-soira (3018 meters above sea level) in the south; the Danakil Rift Valley; the Red Sea Islands (the plains of the Gash- Barka area (western lowlands); the Alid Volcanic mountain…etc.
The country is endowed with rich cultural heritage resources. The unprecedented cultural heritage dates back to 27 million years. Among these include the one-million year old site of Buia; the 125,000 year old site of Abdur in the coast of the Red Sea; the rock-arts of Adi- Keih, Tserona, Mai- Aini, Ghala Nefhi, Nakfa, Qurora, Asmat; the cultural landscape of Qohaito, Metera, Tekondae; the ancient port city of Adulis; the monasteries of Debre-Bizen, Keren (Di’arit); the Sahaba mosque in Massawa; the arc-deco of the modern world heritage cities of Asmara, Massawa, Keren, Dekemhare; the Massawa-Asmara rail-way; and the Nakfa trenches.
Eritrea’s rich heritage resources are not well known to tourists. Although some of them are in the bucket list of the Ministry of Tourism, they are open to tourists despite their poor management plans. These sites have been known to researchers for decades and they are facing all forms of hazards. There are also other heritage sites that can potentially be turned to reliable tourism destination areas.
As long as a country has heritage destinations, there will be tourists visiting. Hence, a proper plan and investment are needed to promote tourism. Heritage attractions must be planned carefully for all aspects of their operation because heritage (natural or cultural heritage) is a very important driver of tourism. Hence, in order to ensure sustainable tourism, the protection of heritage assets (natural and cultural) from natural and man-made threats is vital.