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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: What counts as a visit?

One of the recurring topics at our Forum is the question “When can I count a WHS as visited?”. See for example #1, #2 and the nagging doubts in #3. Some WH travellers are straight-forward about it: they consider a WHS as visited when they have seen at least one monument or protected feature in the site's core zone. Others see it more from an esoteric perspective, ticking it off when they 'feel' like having visited a site.

A clear clue that you have arrived is always welcome

I plan to visit the Coa Valley and Siega Verde WHS next week, and this is a good example of the difficulties in determining what constitutes a ‘visit’. First of all, it’s a transboundary WHS. So do I have to visit both the Spanish and Portuguese parts? Second, the WHS is made up of 17 different locations. Do I have to visit 1, >50% or all of these locations? And have I ‘visited’ the WHS when I have set foot in the inscribed area, learned about it nearby (for example in the Coa Museum), or do I have to see/experience the rock engravings in situ? My personal general ‘rule’ is: get into the core zone and see the site's OUV. But sometimes I also reward the effort that I have put into it: have I made the most out of what was possible given the circumstances of the day?

Travellers on a quest to complete different lists from ours have found their own solutions. The mammal friends of mammalwatching.com often rely on a ‘record shot’ (a shot from a camera that is!). I was a bit disturbed at first to read that it is perfectly acceptable among them to set traps, or go around driving at night hoping to catch an elusive animal in the headlights of a car. Fortunately we as WH Travellers do not have to worry whether our desired object is present in the supposed location. For us, 'Getting there', 'Getting in' and 'Tracking down the OUV' are most of the time the difficult parts.

Used entrance ticket for Yin Xu, with 3 holes in it for having visited 3 sublocations

The competitive travellers at The Best Travelled (TBT) have taken this topic to the next level. They have created quite detailed guidelines for visits to UN countries. At least a ‘minimal’ visit to a country is needed to be able to count it (a 'good' visit where you have actually experienced something relevant is encouraged, but not rewarded more). A transit at an airport does not count according to these rules, but “standing with both feet in an area beyond the airport area is accepted”.

Intrigued by this level of detail I asked Anthony Asael, Manager of TBT, how they came up with it. He replied that TBT had to find a proper balance between not recognizing travellers that only were transiting at airports, but at the same time allowing for those that did not visit a place in full-depth: “[the guideline that] .. .travellers must go beyond the entrance of the airport buidling, symbolizes the choice we made. You really have to go through immigration, present your passport, and that involves possessing a visa where and whenever you need one.”

This guidance is only one step in the process. The final hurdle lies in the verification system, where top travellers are asked for proof for a random 20 countries they have claimed to have visited. This means for example not only being able to show a visa for those countries, but the passport/visa also needs to be stamped by authorities upon arrival or exit. Other types of proof can be creditcard statements, train or bus tickets, photographs. Anthony Asael: “…it can cause some headache for elderly members who were not very organized, or for people who had to surrender their passports, and have no other proof.”

Me, a sign for a WHS and 2 witnesses

The main difference between ticking off regions/countries, such as advertised on TBT, and WHS seems to me that visiting WHS is not purely a geographical excercise. It doesn’t only need preparation about where it is (and how to get there), but also why it has become a WHS. You have to familiarize yourself with that subject and try to get a feel for it when you've reached the geographic destination. So my conclusion is that the answer to ‘What counts as a WHS visit?’ cannot be measured or proven beyond an individual's own frame of reference.

Published 19 March 2016

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Responses to What counts as a visit?
Clyde (19 March 2016)

I totally agree! The more "rules", the more competitive it gets and at least as I see it, it's your personal experience that counts and how much a WHS enriched your knowledge, how much of a surprise was it, comparing it with other WHS, etc. I think this site really strikes the balance well between rankings and insights gained. I just managed to visit a rock art location of the Mediterranean basin and a good museum and after such a hassle, I'm surely going to consider it a valid visit, especially since I managed to see the real art not a replica!