Blog WH Travellers

The 9 WHS Commandments

Visiting WHS isn’t always easy. Frederic M. and I both tried to tackle the Lenggong Valley recently – a site where early hominid remains have been found, a type of site that always has a challenge in communicating its story anyway. In Lenggong the archaeological museum has been ‘under renovation’ for ages with no end. The other locations are closed to ordinary visitors. To access them you need a guide connected to the museum, but the e-mail address for contact only results in a Delivery failure notification. Frederic and I kept on trying via different channels and we will let you know in a review if we succeed.

Why make our lives so hard? I came up with the following 9 ‘Commandments’ that the management of a WHS should adhere to in order to accommodate a WH traveller:

1.      You show your OUV!

You do not keep it to yourself (looking at you, people of Stoclet!). You may restrict visitor numbers when overcrowding becomes a concern, but access should be allowed via a mechanism that is open to everyone.

2.      Thou shalt not close up shop right after becoming a WHS

Celebrate your WH status. Be prepared for a surge in visitors. Offer them free entrance or another freebie in the first weeks to celebrate with you. Don’t be like the Margravial Opera House which stayed open for only 3 months and then closed for 6 years! Or like Saudi Arabia’s Turaif Quarter which continued renovations until 13 years after the inscription it finally opened.

3.       You are clear about your core zone

You deliver a good quality, digital map to the WHC Bureau desks – how hard can that be in 2023? Also, on site, you make clear which areas of your property are protected as part of the WHS.

4.       You shall have a proper UNESCO plaque

This is already a requirement in the guidelines from UNESCO. Display it proudly in a freely accessible area. Let a local artist make an interesting design. The plaque should also state in which year you reached WH status and for what reason, to educate visitors without prior knowledge about WHS.

5.       Thou shalt not practice foreigner pricing

You are a WORLD heritage, it is protected for and by the GLOBAL community. So you cannot make one global citizen pay more than another. Guilty: at least 107 of the current WHS!

6.       You shall create and maintain an official website

On the website, you show your opening hours, entrance fees, and any special visiting conditions if applicable.

7.       Thou shalt no lie about being a WHS when thou are not one (yet)

Speaks for itself. It confuses mainstream media, leading to a lot of unnecessary chatter.

8.       If you’re part of a serial site, you should make that clear

State where and what the other locations are, and what your site contributes to the overall picture. Share logos. Even consider a shared admission ticket!

9.       You allow photography without restriction or additional fees

There really is no technical reason to forbid photography in this day and age. All other reasons you come up with (commercial, visitor flow) are fallacies. 

Writing all this down, I am afraid that I can think of only a few WHS that currently adhere to all of these commandments. The Rietveld Schröderhuis is an exemplary one at the moment, but it took them 15 years to come up with a proper map (come on, it's 1 house!) and 20+ years to lift the photography restrictions.

Do you as a WH Traveller have additional instructions that you want owners of future and current WHS to know?

Els - 5 March 2023

Leave a comment


Leafar98 20 January 2024

While I do understand the arguments about "foreigner pricing", bear in mind that not everyone coming from the "rich" country is actually rich. There are many students or young travellers who don't earn a lot of money. It is not normal in my opinion to pay more (or even similar) for visiting WHS in poorer countries than in the richer ones. I can pay more than locals, but let it be reasonable.

Squiffy 9 March 2023

As a Brit I get infuriated by one particularly central European custom:
"What can I see today? Nothing. Because it's Monday. And everything is closed on a Monday..."

Astraftis 9 March 2023

Curiously, I was brooding something similar more generally for museums, thinking of bad behaviours that are unfortunately widespread.

I also mostly agree with all the points, with some observations.

The #3 (map) is particularly critical, and I would expect a sort of standard cartographic service by UNESCO to solve it, or at least official instructions. It should be feasible.

I despise #7 a lot and I would like some more action be possible to denounce such occurrences and to make them stop.

I am also rather cool about #5, but I would rephrase it like this: the price should be reasonable according to the standards of the country (so no inflated prices to profit of "rich" tourists), and then it would be nice if locals or regional visitors could have a partial or even total reduction on that price, while foreigners of course not.

About #9 I am rather indifferent. Sometimes I think that limitations on photography can just create a betetr experience for everybody, disincentivating some obnoxious behaviours like queus for selfies etc.

I am also partially indifferent with respect to #1: the possibility to visit a site is always nice, but I can live with the fact that some places are simply not accessible for some reasons, still acknowledging their universal value and the fact that the listing helps their preservation. Still, every effort should be taken to make sites visitable.

And on this last point I would add a #10 commandment: there should be no "seasonal closure" at all, unless there is a REALLY cogent motivation for that. This is an irritating habit in some (smaller) places. Last year in Norway I was extremely upset to find that Urnes was closed mid-april: I understand it's end of winter and low season there, but come on, it can be kept open and it surely has visitors. Also, opening hours of WHS should be flexible, no 12-16 nonsense. I like it in Greece where yu often have 8-20 for important sites, now that's reasonable.

Els Slots 7 March 2023

Thanks all for your clever reactions. I will try to turn it into 10 proper commandments and maybe design a badge or so for the sites that comply. Will pick this up in a Forum post in a week or 2, when I have returned from my SE Asia travels.

Chris W. 6 March 2023

Yes, especially on number 9. This is a pain in the ass sometimes. I understand without flash is a must in some cases. But, modern phones/camera can do easily without. I have no problem if a site charges a small fee for photography though.

Meltwaterfalls 5 March 2023

I'm pretty much in agreement on all of these, especially the maps. If anyone would like to commision me to make them, drop me a line :)

Though in a few cases there are one or two reasonable exceptions.

On the Stoclet point, I think there is a partial exception here. Of course it should be open to visitors, and the real OUV is in the interior decoration. However in this very specific case the WHS listing was used as a rather effective legal tool to stop some of the inheritors from breaking down the interior and selling it off.

The alternative to being on the list was the house being broken up and sold for parts. So whilst not ideal that it is closed off from view, I would still take that over it not exisiting at all.

On photography, I think my only exception would be in a tiny set of delicate sites where the use of flash could genuinly damage the OUV of light sensetive decoration (cave art mostly), or cause some form of danger (e.g. I remember all battery powered objects being banned from the underground tours at Blaenavon)

Jay T 5 March 2023

@Els "Writing all this down, I am afraid that I can think of only a few WHS that currently adhere to all of these commandments."

I'm fairly impressed by how the US National Park Service runs its websites, several of which are World Heritage Sites, and would love to see more World Heritage Sites worldwide with a similar level of investment, though I know it takes time and money for upkeep.

On another note, I'm really curious to see which sites adhere to all the commandments and would make Els' "Michelin" list!

@Solivagant "Thou shall provide tour translations"

Yes -- as you mention, just having a printed tour sheet shouldn't be too hard to do!

@ Frédéric M "Or maybe it should state "no exaggerated foreigner pricing"."

Definitely agree with this. I don't mind a discount for citizens of countries with World Heritage Sites, since often it is their taxes at work. I do have more of an issue with exorbitant fees for foreign visitors, and I agree with Frédéric that I would expect any extra fees to be spent responsibly for upkeep.

nan 5 March 2023

Preference 1: Offer tours in English at all. Several sites don't, not even the slot on weekends at 17:00h.

Preference 2: Tour guides should speak minimal English and maybe try to address questions also in English. Reading a page can be done in 5min and often results in standing around in lengthy periods. I fondly recall a tour in Prague (the sewage plant) where we did both languages quite nicely.

Solivagant 5 March 2023

"Thou shall provide tour translations"
Those sites only allowing visit via a tour - how difficult is it in these days of Google Translate? They must surely have an initial standard script for training and "quality" purposes. Auto translate it into a range of languages - good enough for this purpose, print out and plasticise the result. No need for hi tech "Q code" etc solutions. No more waiting for the only tour in language "X" of the day or having to follow around without any/much understanding. I remember Wartburg doing it very well.

Michael Ayers 5 March 2023

My goodness... #3... Yes! A thousand times, yes!!

Number Nine also! Though, like a Frédéric I don’t mind bending Number Five a reasonable amount.

nan 5 March 2023

1) Fully agree. If you want to be listed as WHS, this means you want to be part of the memory of humanity and there should be a mechanism to experience the OUV for every day humans. Stoclet to me is one of the worst offenders as it's the stair case that makes the OUV.

2) I would phrase it more broadly: With inscription all maintenance/accessibility/renovation issues are resolved. I think inscription should not happen if there is work pending etc.

3) In today's time with geo data available for everyone fully concur.

4) Would be nice if the location was listed in 5. To this day not sure where Speicherstadt plaque is, but know where the certificate is.

5) Agreeing with Frederic here. Locals should be able to appreciate their sites, allthewhile foreigners contribute to their preservation. E.g. Petra, Macchu Picchu, ... should be accessible for the locals, but money from foreigners is needed for upkeep.

Personally, I think discriminatory pricing should be limited to poor vs rich countries and not excessive.

6) Yes. How hard can it be. One site should have a leading page and link all sub components. Especially for serial sites this gets messed up where several components compete for the leading page.

7. Aye. Turkish tentative sites come to mind. Or unclear borders where components outside of the core zone reclaim world heritage status (see above map).

8. Okay, but not super urgent to me as central website would resolve this.

9. Photography for non commercial use should be permitted.

10: Spent some money on proper paper tickets. No WTF thermo prints. No generic Indian archeology tickets. A pretty ticket, preferably DIN A6 or smaller, carton board, clearly stating the location and time of visit.

Frédéric M 5 March 2023

Really interesting list! However, I gotta disagree with #5. Or maybe it should state "no exaggerated foreigner pricing". I think it's fair for developing countries to have a lower price to allow their citizens to access heritage sites more easily and learn about their own history or nature. And it's also fair for wealthy travelers to contribute more to the management of sites they visit. The cost must however remain reasonable and the extra money must be well spent by the managers.