People, Travel

A Less Trodden Path in Intangible Heritage Tourism

A Less Trodden Path in Intangible Heritage TourismA Less Trodden Path in Intangible Heritage Tourism

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has nine centers across the world, responsible to introduce, register, and protect instances of intangible heritage. Establishment of Tehran Intangible Heritage Center as one of the nine, enabled Iran to reclaim its rightful cultural position in the region and begin to develop cultural tourism, according to the Persian daily, Donya-e Eqtesad.

Envoys and representatives from West and Central Asia met in the Royal Plates Museum, located in Sa’dabad historical complex to consolidate the Tehran Intangible Heritage Center and boost cooperation between the countries of the region for safeguarding their common intangible heritage.

Tehran Intangible Heritage Center was introduced as an institution having been authorized by the UNESCO to start its activities since 2012. The head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), Masud Soltanifar, called on regional countries to help introduce and protect regional heritage by joining the Tehran center.

Soltanifar referred to the current opportunity for regional cooperation, and considered the meeting as an introduction enhanced interaction. “Close to 160 countries have joined the Intangible Heritage Convention, though only 11 years have passed since its establishment, this indicates the global popularity of the convention.”

UNESCO has designated 98 International and regional institutes and centers as Category Two. Though not legally part of the Organization, these institutes and centers are associated with UNESCO through formal arrangements approved by the General Conference. Through capacity-building, knowledge sharing, and research, they provide a valuable and unique contribution to the implementation of UNESCO’s strategic program objectives for the benefit of member states. “They are not limited by political borders; their defined activities are region-based,” Soltanifar said.

Soltanifar considered the UNESCO center in Tehran an honor, and enumerated duties for the newly established center, including regional development of sustainability program, and capacity building in joint intangible heritage.

Considering the fact that cultural activities can serve as a strong basis for peace, friendship, cooperation, and sustainable development, intangible heritage has great potential in this regard. In West and Central Asia, there are numerous instances of such joint, dynamic heritage. The appreciation of cultural aspects brings about the empathy and common feelings among the inheriting countries, Soltanifar added.

  Defining Tours for Intangible Heritage

Iran’s cultural tourism has been neglected, head of the Tehran center, Yadollah Parmon, said. Organizers have focused on religious and medical categories of tourism, with a few visits to historical monuments thrown in.

Though the newly established center has considered developing the tourism sector, no decisive measure has been taken in this regard as of yet, but music concerts as part of new year ceremonies and festivities is a step in the right direction.

Donya-e Eqtesad proposed a new tourism route, linking the countries of West and Central Asia, and introducing the intangible heritage of the region to travelers. Parmon called the suggestion worthy of consideration. “In fact, the center is planning to define a route wherein travelers can see local rituals, learn handicrafts techniques, and be introduced to linguistic characteristics of different ethnic groups.” The plan will of course be devised in a way not to harm the originality of the intangible heritage in question, or detach the traditions from their local context. It is also of critical importance to control the surge of tourists not to inflict damage on local cultures, Parmon added.

By late February, Tehran Intangible Heritage Center will have a website. Parmon hoped they shall be authorized to use UNESCO logo.

  UNESCO Made It Regional

UNESCO will be unable to implement sustainable and promotional plans on intangible heritage without the support from the associated countries, cultural heritage deputy of ICHHTO, and head of board of governors at Tehran Intangible Heritage Center Mohammad Hassan Talebian said. This was the greatest impetus as the organization decided to devolve the operations to regional centers.

Registration on the World Heritage List is not now as trendy as it was in 2009 and 2010, and it is just one of the measures being pursued by the center; others include awareness raising, capacity building, identification, documentation, restoration, research, and promotion.

Some representatives of the participating countries reassured the center’s officials that they will deliver the meeting’s message to their respective countries. They expressed hope that the activities of Tehran Intangible Heritage Center would strengthen ties between the countries of West and Central Asia.