From 11 to 15 September 2023, 105 World Heritage site managers from across the globe met in Riyadh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the 5th World Heritage Site Managers Forum held in conjunction with the extended 45th session of the World Heritage Committee. The 2023 Forum offered a space to discuss where we are with the on-the-ground implementation of the World Heritage Convention and reflect on what is needed for the next 50 years.
The World Heritage Site Managers’ Forum (WHSMF) just concluded its 5th edition at the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia. The Forum is a networking platform for site managers from natural, cultural and mixed World Heritage properties that aims to empower them and create new opportunities by sharing their knowledge and enlarging their networks and experiences at an international level.
The days were full of exchanges and discussions about today’s most pressing challenges and needs for site managers. The Forum opened with an intensive first session wherein the Forum host, the Heritage Commission of Saudi Arabia, provided an overview of the national implementation of the World Heritage Convention, explaining efforts to manage and protect the Kingdom’s natural and cultural heritage. The first session also provided site managers with an overview of several ongoing projects and key concepts and processes for managing World Heritage. In the evening, Forum participants visited Al Masmak Fortress and Al Zal Market/Souk.
The second session started with site managers attending the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee, where they witnessed the Committee's decision-making processes and presented a statement to the Committee. They reiterated their respect and importance of the World Heritage Convention in their everyday work, detailing how they see firsthand how it has introduced sustainability, boosted resource mobilization and fostered multilevel cooperation. They shared some of their most pressing needs of today, such as climate change preparedness, capacity to respond to emergencies and ability to address over-tourism. They united in appealing to the Committee for continued and further support of site managers as key players in managing and making decisions about World Heritage sites, sustaining a regular schedule of site manager gatherings, continuing to build their skills in advocating for the properties, and called for immediate action to promote sustainable tourism.
The site managers also met young professionals in a joint session between the Young Professionals and Site Managers’ Fora. The discussion emphasized that young professionals play a pivotal role serving as site managers or leading conservation projects at many World Heritage properties. At the same time, it was highlighted that there is a need to enhance intergenerational exchange to establish a platform of knowledge sharing and allow young people to fully contribute to World Heritage management. Several site managers pointed out the high importance of ensuring the continuity of management efforts by including young and emerging professionals in management and conservation efforts, including in decision-making processes.
On the third day of the Forum, site managers travelled to Al-’Ula to visit and learn more about the management of the World Heritage property of Hegra Archaeological Site (al-Hijr / Madā ͐ in Ṣāliḥ) and the Memory of the World registered site of the ‘open library’ of Jabal Ikmah. The Royal Commission of Al-’Ula accompanied participants for a comprehensive visit to Hegra and Jabal Ikmah. They gave insight into how the Commission manages these sites, from policy to on-the-ground action, and the collaborations and measures put in place to improve management efforts.
In the fourth session of the Forum, site managers tuned in to the World Heritage Committee's discussion of the State of Conservation of World Heritage properties. In the afternoon, site managers were provided a detailed overview of the forthcoming “Enhancing Our Heritage Toolkit 2.0” and the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage context, which was published in 2022.
In the evening they visited the World Heritage property of At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah and met the local management team of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
On the last day of the Forum, participants presented the results of their group work, focusing on identifying management actions to respond to two hypothetical scenarios, using the site of Hegra as a case study. They discussed how climate change is affecting Hegra and how potential developments can potentially impact the site. Groups provided their analyses of the two scenarios and their recommendations for response.
At the Forum's closing ceremony, the site managers joined Dr Abdulelah Al-Tokhais, Chairperson of the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee, and representatives of the World Heritage Centre, the Advisory Bodies – ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN – and the Heritage Commission.
The 5th edition of the World Heritage Site Managers’ Forum was organized by the Heritage Commission of the Ministry of Culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the ICCROM-IUCN World Heritage Leadership programme and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in collaboration with ICOMOS.