Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Mountain To Climb: Tramuntana and heritage

So, the Tramuntana mountains have been granted World Heritage status. Let joy be unconfined. Cue all manner of self-congratulatory noises and claims of benefits to tourism and then very little, if anything, by way of action.

The one advantage the mountains have over another Mallorcan item of world heritage, the Sibil·la chant, is that you can see them. They are tangible and not, as was the case with the conferring of UNESCO status on the Sibil·la, an "intangible cultural heritage of humanity".

A drawback of being able to see them, however, is that, as mountains go, they aren't very impressive. The Puig Mayor is Ben Nevis plus 300 feet or so. But size isn't everything. It is what lies within the range that is more important than its scale: the maintenance of tradition and customs; religion; agriculture; flora and fauna; the villages; the documentary work of Archduke Luis Salvador. It is all these, plus the measures that have been taken to protect the mountains, that make the Tramuntana a worthy recipient of the heritage status.

The benefit to tourism should be a very obvious one. With a world heritage stamp slapped onto them, the mountains are revealed, ever more, as an alternative to Mallorca's sun and beach. But will the award amount to much? If you take culture and heritage to be one and the same thing, you have to wonder whether this new status will genuinely create a benefit. The music expert Francesc Vicens summed things up well when the Sibil·la got its award: "Much is spoken about cultural tourism, but I believe that the term has been used a great deal but without planning or a strategy ... for promoting the island".

From towns and villages embraced by the Tramuntana, various mayors have had their say. Puigpunyent: "it (the inscription) will attract tourism thanks to international knowledge of the richness of the mountains". Alaró: "it is a mark of quality that will bring in tourism with different values". Estellencs: "it is an impulse for tourism of sustainable development".

You want to ask the mayor of Estellencs what on earth he's talking about. Does he really know? Sustainable development, sustainable tourism. Much is said, and very little understood and very little notice taken. Vicens also remarked that the tourism industry has little interest in cultural matters.

One fear with the award is its political and structural element. The now ex-leader of the Council of Mallorca, Francina Armengol, was apparently euphoric at the news. It was all down to good work done by the land department on her patch. She may no longer be president of the Council but she can bask in the reflected glory.

Note that it wasn't the tourism department, and in any event the new Bauzá government is taking away tourism promotion duties from the Council, an eminently sensible thing to do, but if the Tramuntana award was a feather in PSOE's cap and not one of the Delgado tourism ministry at the regional government, then political territorialism may yet well help to fritter away any benefit that UNESCO might have offered.

The convention for World Heritage Sites concludes by saying that inscription increases "public awareness of the site and of its outstanding values, thus also increasing the tourist activities at the site". UNESCO does its bit by announcing the sites and through its various programmes, but it isn't its task to create increased tourist activities. In the case of the Tramuntana mountains, it is presumably the task of the tourism promotion agency within the tourism ministry. But if there indeed isn't much by way of a strategy for promoting cultural tourism, then how effective might any efforts be, assuming there are any? And money, for tourism promotion, is thin on the ground.

There is some talk of the assistance that will now be forthcoming from UNESCO as a result of the inscription. But this isn't financial assistance for promotion. Indeed financial assistance of any sort is open to question. The UNESCO heritage fund is suffering because of under-funding, while priorities for what cash there is are for sites that are at risk or in countries where money really is in short supply, such as in Africa. The Tramuntana don't fall into either category.

It would be nice to believe that the awarding of world heritage status would make a significant difference and that tourism would shoot up as a consequence. Nice to believe, but there'll be a mountain of previously ineffective promotion to climb in order to make us really believe.

Any comments to please.

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