Unesco typically highlights tourism potential of its sites

Unesco typically highlights tourism potential of its sites.

09-12-2021J. FURONES

How good are you at your World Heritage Sites? There are 1,154 in all, 49 of them in Spain. This is pretty decent going. It’s the same number as France and so equal fourth behind Germany, China and Italy, which heads the world rankings with 58.

So, there are 49 in Spain, but how many can you name? You don’t get a point for saying the Tramuntana Mountains, because it is assumed that everyone knows this one.

Don’t they? You do get a point, though, for Ibiza - yes, the whole of the island on account of its biodiversity and culture apparently. Ibiza has an abundance of posidonia sea grass, specifically cited by Unesco in granting the declaration. Indeed, but then so does Mallorca.

The Phoenician influence in Ibiza is what really seemed to tip the heritage site balance. Mallorca had very little of this. Journeying from ancient Carthage, the Phoenicians found Ibiza to their liking and so didn’t bother much with the rest of the archipelago.

The Balearics therefore have two heritage sites. Which leaves 47, four of them on the other archipelago - the one stuck out in the Atlantic. Two of these should be comparatively easy, as they are both also among the network of Spain’s National Parks.

One says comparatively easy, but then how good are you at your parks? There’s one in the Balearics - Cabrera - which attracts a miniscule number of visitors compared with Tenerife’s Teide and doesn’t do a whole lot better when up against La Gomera’s Garajonay National Park either. The other two heritage sites in the Canaries are the city of San Cristóbal de La Laguna in Tenerife and the Risco Caído and Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria.

Only 43 left to go then. Another national park, Doñana in Andalusia; the Medina Azahara and historic centre of Cordoba and Granada’s Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin, also in Andalusia; Segovia’s mediaeval palace and Roman aqueduct; the old town of Santiago de Compostela and cathedral, supposedly with the remains of James the Apostle, Spain’s patron; one of the most historic cities of all, Toledo; the weird Médulas Roman gold-mining site near Ponferrada. Just some of them.

Another is the catch-all Works of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, one of which is the crypt and nativity facade of Sagrada Familia. This heritage site has recently been included in a global top thirty of World Heritage Sites. It is ranked twentieth in a list compiled by British company Design Bundles that is based on Instagram posts, and one’s guessing that Sagrada Familia has been the most Instagrammed element, as it is the best known.

Out of all the sites in Spain, just the one - Gaudi - is in the top thirty. Italy, which has nine more sites than Spain, has five in the top thirty. There are three in the top five - the historic centre of Rome, the most Instagrammed place anywhere in the world, according to the findings; Venice and the lagoon (number three); and Florence’s historic centre (fifth).

The two other Italian contributions to the top thirty are the Dolomites (29th) and the city of Verona (13th); ‘Romeo and Juliet’ may have much to be thanked for.

As ever with this sort of thing, the science is open to question. But the Instagram world top 30 does seem to be reasonably sound. Put it this way, an enormous amount of data have been analysed. In the case of Rome, there were more than 61 million tags over a twelve-month period. Gaudi only managed a mere 3.45 million.

This top thirty does include some other tough competition, e.g. the Grand Canyon National Park and the Yellowstone National Park. But does just one out of thirty not represent a rather disappointing return for Spain? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Apart from Italy with five, only the US with three (the Yosemite National Park is third), Brazil with two and France with two have more than the one.

Where the Tramuntana sit among the 1,154 I can’t say, but my guess would be not very high. This being the case, is there not scope for the Council of Majorca, which basically manages the mountains via the Tramuntana consortium and is now getting far greater tourism promotion responsibilities, to pursue a campaign to boost Instagram presence?

Perhaps, but as we know, there are fears enough already about the mountains being overrun and saturated. Unesco typically highlights tourism potential of its sites, but at the same time it has no desire to see them ruined. A World Heritage Site can be a double-edged sword, which has been no better demonstrated than in Venice.

Even without a specific campaign, though, Instagram will continue to carry a great deal of influence. It offers invaluable promotion, and most of it’s free. Rome they are not, Gaudi they are not, but the Tramuntana are an Instagram target, which makes the mountains’ management all the more crucial.

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