Tourism can contribute to nature conservation and biodiversity protection. It is difficult to measure the tourism-conservation relationship, and a proxy has to be defined. The data presented here show those natural World Heritage sites that have a tourism management plan. The assumption is that better planning leads to improved outcomes.

Less than one third of natural World Heritage Areas have extensive tourism planning in place.

Natural World Heritage sites are globally recognized as the world’s most important protected areas. For the 2017 assessment, a total of 240 natural World Heritage Areas were considered. These cover over 280 million hectares and account for more than 8% of the combined surface covered by protected areas. Tourism in natural areas can be a driving force and important mechanism for conservation, but only if adequate management strategies are in place. Tourism to World Heritage Areas is growing and there is increasing recognition of the need to manage visitors.

Analysing publicly available documents for each World Heritage Area, this indicator measures the extent to which natural/mixed World Heritage Areas have a tourism management plan in place. It was noted that for some areas there are plans that relate to another protection category (e.g. National Park, Biosphere Reserve) but not explicitly for the World Heritage status. The indicator informs SDG Goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystem and biodiversity protection, and Goal 14 on marine protection. Due to the wide range of ecosystem services offered by protected areas, a contribution to other goals is likely.


  • In 2017, 11 World Heritage Areas (5%, slightly down from 2016) had a current tourism management plan, with one additional site having an out of date stand-alone tourism plan and a further 9 claiming to have a stand-alone plan that could not be verified. Thus, overall, tourism-specific planning in WHA is still relatively limited.
  • Out of all natural World Heritage Areas, 80 sites (33%) have an extensive level of planning for tourism. This includes both dedicated tourism management plans as well as general management plans that cover tourism management extensively. This has increased slighlty since the previous year, reflecting a trend of better planning, especially amongst the newly established WHAs.
  • Of the newly listed areas, the Landscapes of Dauria (Mongolia and Russian Federation) do not appear to have a tourism plan at this stage. Others, such as Hubei Shennongjia in China, have extensive tourism planning in place, in accordance with UNESCO requirements. Some operate from an old plan (e.g. Western Tien-Shan, Kazakhstan) which links to a pre-existing status of protection, for example a National Park.
  • New extensive plans  for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, USA, and for the Tasmanian Wilderness, Australia, had started in 2016. It was noted that there is no consistent use of time frames, with some plans having been developed over a decade ago (or two) without a clear end date. It would be useful to encourage areas to set planning goals for specified time frames.
  • Marine World Heritage Areas are slightly more likely to have an extensive tourism plan compared with terrestrial ones.