Tuesday, October 23, 2012

After Dark in the Park: World Heritage

This island is full of beauty and awe inspiring sights.

It’s no surprise that 25 years ago, the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was acknowledged by the world to be an incredible value to all of humanity.

The park was recognized as one of 21 World Heritage sites in the United States.

On October 24 at 7 p.m., the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park will host a special “After Dark in the Park,” lecture with National Geographic Traveler editor Jonathan Tourtellot for an overview of World Heritage Sites.

The event is free and takes place in the Kilauea Visitor Center Auditorium located near the Volcanoes National Park entrance.

Another World Heritage event takes place the next day on October 25, at the Fairmont Orchid from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

A roundtable discussion will take place with Tourtellot, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park staff and travel industry leaders. Learn how to capitalize on the cache of having a World Heritage site on this isle.

This free event is taking reservations; call 985-6018 for more information. The Fairmont Orchid is located at 1 North Kaniku Drive on the Kohala Coast.

There are 962 World Heritage sites worldwide, and Hawai’i has two of them. Besides the National Park, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, is another beaut of a site. Lucky we live Hawai’i eh?

Friday, October 12, 2012

UNESCO chief says U.S. funding cuts "crippling" organization

UNESCO is in its "worst ever financial situation" after its biggest contributor the United States froze funding last year, the director general of the United Nations' cultural agency said on Thursday.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization was plunged into crisis in October 2011 when Washington, an ally of Israel, cancelled its grant in protest at the body's decision to grant the Palestinians full membership.

The U.N. body had been forced to slash spending, freeze job hires and cut programs after losing the U.S. funding, which had made up 22 percent of its budget, UNESCO's Irina Bokova told reporters.

The organization, which designates World Heritage sites, promotes global education and supports press freedom among other tasks, had started the year with a deficit of $150 million out of $653 million for its budget over 2012 and 2013, Bokova said.

"It's crippling our capacity to deliver," she added.

"We are coping in very difficult circumstances. We're fundraising this year, but it's not sustainable on a long-term basis. We're not closing UNESCO, but member states will have to rethink the way forward. UNESCO will be crippled."

U.S. legislation prohibits funding to any UN agency that grants full membership to any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood.

As a result of the vote on the Palestinians, the U.S. administration, which pays its dues at the end of the year, immediately withdrew its funding to the Paris-based agency.

Among projects to be hit by the change in U.S. policy were a Holocaust education program that is linked to wider campaigns on human rights and genocide and a Tsunami research project, both of which had been directly financed by Washington.

Bokova said it was in U.S. interests to be part of UNESCO and hoped Washington would review its position before next year when it would be stripped of voting rights for not paying its dues.

"There is money in the world, but it's not just about money," Bokova said. "We need the United States to formulate common policies and to debate common values."

Bokova, who took her post three years ago, said the deep cuts UNESCO had been obliged to make were affecting the way it did business. It did not replace 336 jobs amounting to about 15 percent of its total workforce, cancelled projects and slashed expenses.

To compensate for the shortfall, UNESCO created an emergency fund to obtain cash, primarily from other members, that is allocated to projects as it wishes.

The 60-year old former Bulgarian foreign minister said she had managed to raise $69 million, including $20 million each from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as smaller donations from countries including Turkey, Indonesia and Algeria.

It has also received specific project funding from countries that have particular interests in certain fields. On Thursday it is due to sign a $20 million agreement with Norway for education and sustainable development programs.

"It fills gaps, but not in the long-run. We need a predictable budget," she said. "I think UNESCO was caught in between the political turmoil of the Middle Eastern conflict. I think it's unfair."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Director-General pays tribute to leading US conservationist and one of the founding fathers of the World Heritage Convention

It was with great sadness that the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, learned of the passing of Russell E. Train, former President of the World Wildlife Fund, who died on 17 September at the age of 92.Russell E. Train was a renowned US conservationist who played a central role in creating groundbreaking laws in response to rising concerns about environmental protection in America and around the globe.

During a long and illustrious career in the public and private sectors, Mr Train’s occupied several key positions under several US administrations including President of the Conservation Foundation, Under-Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and President and Chair of the World Wildlife Fund from 1978 to 1990.

Mr Train is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of the World Heritage Convention. In 1965 Russell Train co-spearheaded a drive for an international convention to protect both cultural and natural heritage, with a White House Conference calling for a World Heritage Trust to stimulate international cooperation to protect “the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry”. From 1970 to 1973, Russell Train was the first chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of US President Richard Nixon, at the time when the World Heritage initiative was launched in a Presidential message in 1971.

“As the international community is marking the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, I am particularly sad to note the passing of Mr Train whose vision and dedication to safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural for the benefit of future generations laid the groundwork for the world foremost international treaty for heritage preservation”, said the Director-General.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Former EPA administrator, leading American conservationist Russell Train dies

WASHINGTON — Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russell Train, a leading American conservationist who helped craft some of the nation’s enduring environmental laws, died Monday at age 92.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said late Monday that as a leader with the federal agency at the time it was just starting under the Nixon administration, Train helped set the path for the ongoing work of the agency.

“His years with the agency saw landmark environmental achievements whose impacts are still felt,” Jackson said in a statement, citing laws such as the Toxic Substance Control Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act that help protect the nation’s water.

Train came to symbolize the bipartisan nature of the environmental movement more than 40 years ago when many conservatives were enthusiastic advocates of environmentalism.

Train was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower to the bench of the Tax Court in 1957. The Washington Post said that around that time he and his wife took two safari expeditions to East Africa and the experiences had an impact on him that lasted throughout his life.
In 1965, he left the Tax Court to take over the presidency of the Conservation Foundation, a research and education organization.

Newly elected President Richard Nixon named him undersecretary of the Interior Department and in 1970 he became the first chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, an advisory group to the president. The EPA was started in 1970 and William Ruckelshaus was its first administrator. When Ruckelshaus left to take over the FBI during the Watergate scandal, Train was chosen to lead the EPA.

He stayed in the post through the Gerald Ford presidency and had a hand in other landmark environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act.

The chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, said Train played a pivotal role in the government’s efforts to protect the environment.

“He was a serious and widely respected voice on environmental issues at a time when Americans first became broadly aware of the dangers posed by pollution to our air, waters and soils,” Sutley said. “On his watch, the United States stood up many of our landmark safeguards for public health and the environment.”

Train also served as the first president of the World Wildlife Fund’s American chapter, leading that group from 1978 to 1985.

The Post said Train died Monday at his farm in the town of Bozman on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There was no cause of death reported.

Many World Heritage Sites are facing development pressures

SUMMIT COUNTY — Many of the planet’s 217 world heritage natural sites are facing increasing threats, including oil and gas development, and need more protection, conservation leaders said at an occasion marking the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

The 217 sites protect more than 250 million hectares of land and sea in more than 90 countries.

Nearly 8 percent of the 217 natural World Heritage Sites are on a danger list, while another 25 percent are affected by serious conservation issues. More than 60 percent of West and Central African sites are on the Danger list, and one in four of these iconic areas are threatened by planned mining, oil and gas projects. This includes Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of the world’s last mountain gorillas.

“Too many World Heritage sites are left with few resources to ensure their proper management, risking their role as natural flagships for the protection of critical habitats and unique wildlife vital to the future of our planet,” said Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Many face a barrage of challenges, not least from mining and oil exploration.”

The IUCN wants to to see more resources focused on conservation in the next 10 years in order to uphold the high standards set by the designation.

Some conservation leaders said this year’s decision by the World Heritage governing body to not include several sites on the world heritage danger list was step backwards. Inclusion on the list shouldn’t be seen as a black mark, but as a way of drawing attention and providing support to sites at critical risk of losing the wildlife and landscapes for which they first gained global recognition.

“The success of World Heritage has been the way it has recognized exceptional places and focused international attention on their protection,” Badman said. “But there are worrying signs that the Convention could become less effective if it does not uphold its standards and it will need decisive action to remain relevant to the growing conservation needs of the 21st century.”

The IUCN was instrumental in creating the World Heritage Convention in 1972 and has a unique advisory role in supporting the Convention in achieving conservation results. Natural heritage sites are recognized as among the world’s most precious environments.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Achieving World Heritage Status for the Okavango Delta

Most people that visit the Okavango Delta are so taken aback by this vast maze of channels, lagoons, floodplains, flats, crossings, and islands that they assume that it must be a World Heritage Site. When informed that it is not a World Heritage Site, they all sit back, shake their heads, and disagree, lamenting the Botswana government and anyone else that could be involved in this travesty. The next question, having now thought about it, is: “How will World Heritage Status help the Okavango Delta?”

Dr Karen Ross (Okavango World Heritage Project) explains: “What a wonderful designation for the Okavango Delta if it is recognized as a Natural World Heritage site. There can be no better branding and marketing tool for communities and businesses involved in tourism – a sector which provides about 70 % of livelihoods in the region.”

Recognition as a site of global importance that needs to be saved for future generations is a powerful statement. With commercial hunting being phased out and more lodges and concessions being established it would appear that the Okavango Delta is doing fine. The facts are that poaching is on the rise in the areas to the north and est of the Okavango Delta, cattle are encroaching, and signs of pollution are beginning to appear in the main channels due to excessive boat traffic. This complex wetland ecosystem is, in many ways, an anachronisms in this day and age, preserved up until recently by border and civil wars in the Angolan highlands, all the way up to the source of the Okavango River near Huambo. Today, the Okavango Delta is faced by threats of new dam developments to support irrigation schemes and agricultural development in the catchment. Land mines are being removed and wildlife like elephants and general game are moving back into the catchment. People are, however, also migrating into these areas and signs of development are becoming more apparent. Namibia have repeatedly proposed a hydro-electric weir across the Okavango River at Popa Falls that would seriously hamper the functioning of the delta. There is no doubt that the future of this proposed World Heritage Site hinges on developments up in the catchment, which could have minimal impacts if the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site is considered in any development upstream – agriculture, mining, power generation or otherwise.

Dr Ross continues: “Such a listing is also an important extra-layer of protection for the Delta, which lies at the end point of the Okavango River Basin, and thus could be impacted by upstream developments from Angola and Namibia. Further, within Botswana there is also greater protection, for instance mining is not permitted in any World Heritage sites. Finally, a UNESCO World Heritage site, while retaining its sovereign status, has 189 State Parties monitoring the property through the Convention. the World Heritage Convention has more member States than any other UN Convention, and it is party to international law.”

Vietnam's beauty trap

Halong Bay is at risk from the sheer volume of visitors to its World Heritage-listed karsts and isles, writes Mary O'Brien.

There's no denying the magic of Vietnam's Halong Bay. Sailing on a traditional junk at a gentle speed through hauntingly beautiful waters dotted with thousands of limestone pillars is an unforgettable experience.

The bay, in north-east Vietnam, has been high on tourists' must-see lists since 1994 when it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its spectacular seascape.

But the reality behind the picture-postcard views is worrying. Halong Bay is the most popular tourist destination in Vietnam. Last year, 5.5 million tourists, about half of whom were from overseas, visited the area, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

Advertisement Most visitors drive from Hanoi, a 3½-hour journey on roads filled with motorbikes and other vehicles. Thousands of tourist boats ply the waters of the bay, which is bordered to the south and south-east by the Gulf of Tonkin. Many sail to the same places within the bay, so it's difficult to escape other boats.

Sadly, a day trip is no longer enough to experience the beauty of Halong Bay. A longer cruise is needed to reach the more pristine parts of this 1550-square-kilometre bay.

When I visited last month, our boat was surrounded by container vessels waiting for better weather before heading to sea. These ships came from Halong City, a growing centre for coal mining, mineral extraction and shipping.

The beaches near docks and piers are often strewn with rubbish and travel sites have noted complaints from visitors about pollution.

The authorities have taken some action, restricting the number of islands in the bay at which boats can land, so most tourists go to the same islands and caves. But past development, such as electrical wiring in caves or cafes on island beaches, can be unsightly. The bay was nominated as one of seven wonders of nature in November, and since then more international cruise ships have sailed in. In the first five months of this year, about 30,000 cruise ship visitors have come to Halong Bay, a 22 per cent increase on the same period last year, according to the Pattaya Daily News.

The managing director of Sydney-based Travel Indochina, Paul Hole, has been running tours to Vietnam for 19 years. He says 90 per cent of Australian tourists to the country visit Halong Bay.

"Once you get out beyond the craziness of the port, and certainly beyond the day-tripper boats, it's one of the most impressive backdrops to a boat trip anywhere in the world," he says. "It's a reality that directly in that port area, just because of the amount of traffic, there's a bit of detritus in the water there, but once you're out in the bay it's not an issue."

Tourism boom threatens China's heritage sites

In a quiet corner of southern China's Pearl River Delta, hundreds of abandoned watchtowers dot a landscape of water-logged rice paddies, lush bamboo groves and ancient villages.

Bristling with battlements and turrets, the ornate towers were built by families and villages in need of protection during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when much of the country was controlled by warlords and banditry was rife.

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, these days the Kaiping watchtowers, or diaolou as they are known locally, face a threat of a different nature -- the incredible boom in Chinese tourism.

The tiny village of Zili, which has the largest collection of towers, attracts dozens of tour buses on weekends. Their passengers are ushered around the towers by guides sporting red flags and microphones rigged up to loud speakers.

Sports car damages ancient Chinese site They chase the skinny chickens that roam about the dirt paths, snap photos, sample "peasant family food" and buy rustic bamboo souvenirs, while the village's few remaining elderly residents sit on small plastic stools and look on bemused.

It's a scene that's played out at other UNESCO sites across China, where world heritage status is increasingly being used as a economic vehicle to develop backward regions, says Chris Ryan, a professor of tourism at The University of Waikato in New Zealand.

"The idea behind having this status is that there are conservation, preservation and restoration issues, where in China it seems to be primarily geared toward promoting tourism and its economic benefit," says Ryan, who has studied Kaiping and another world heritage site in Anhui province, eastern China.

Man seeks to stage around-the-world blimp race

Don Hartsell knows his idea could be considered crazy.

"I thought this project was so large, so ambitious, that no one would take me seriously," says the Texas resident and aircraft enthusiast. "In fact, I was concerned they would think I was insane."

Hartsell is talking about his World Sky Race, which as conceived would be a grand global spectacle. If all goes according to plan, a fleet of airships will take off from London in 2014 and race each other around the world, watched by millions of spectators, before finishing six months later just outside of Paris.

The event is planned as a series of 18 back-to-back races that will circumnavigate the globe. Although the route isn't finalized, the proposed path will take pilots over at least four continents and about 130 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites -- among them the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty and the Palace of Versailles.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wildfire threatens World Heritage site on Canary Islands

A wildfire on Spain's Canary Island of La Gomera is raging in the Garajonay national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rare subtropical forests are at risk of destruction.

The wildfire, which erupted on Saturday on the Canary Island of La Gomera, has affected 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land, including 350 hectares, or nine percent, of the Garajonay national park.

The park's subtropical forests, which gained it a World Heritage listing, are home to 450 plant species, including eight that are found nowhere else.

The deep ravines and canyons on La Gomera have made fighting the fire difficult.

"The ravines act as chimneys for the fire when the wind blows and this complicates the task of getting the fire under control, " the head of the islands' government, Paulino Rivero, told reporters.

He added that there were two main fires on the island, one in the north that had entered the national park, and another in the La Laja Ravine area. He said arson was suspected, as the fire had started in three different places.

Six hundred people were forced to leave their homes over the weekend.

Mayor Jaime Luis Noda said several homes near the town of Vallehermoso had been destroyed.

Another fire on the neighboring island of La Palma near the town of Mazo has been brought under control after affecting about 1,000 hectares.

Spain has seen a number of serious fires this summer both in the Canaries and on the mainland after a very dry winter.

One on July 22 in the northeast province of Catalonia burnt out 14,000 hectares and claimed four lives. Fires in the Valencia region in early July affected some 50,000 hectares.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Director-General of UNESCO appeals for the Protection of the World Heritage City of Aleppo

In light of escalated violence in the vicinity of several historic urban areas in Syria, the Director-General reiterates her appeal of 30 March 2012, to all parties involved in the conflict to protect all Syrian cultural heritage.

UNESCO is particularly alarmed over reports of heavy fighting in Aleppo, which ancient city is a World Heritage site. Strategically positioned on historic trade routes linking East and West, this ancient city has conserved an astounding monumental heritage reflecting the diverse cultures of the peoples that have settled here over millennia including the Hittites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans. The ancient city of Aleppo has been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1986.

Owing to the volatile security situation, it has not been possible to assess the extent of the damage to the ancient city of Aleppo and several other World Heritage sites including the Crac des Chevaliers, Palmyra, the Ancient Villages in Northern Syria and Damascus.

In the current context of civil strife, UNESCO is also particularly concerned about the risks of looting and pillaging of cultural property. As part of its efforts to mobilize the international community for the protection of Syria’s cultural heritage, UNESCO has alerted the World Customs Organization, INTERPOL, as well as Syria’s neighbouring countries to the potential threats of illicit trafficking in Syrian cultural objects. The Director-General also contacted the United Nations Secretary General and the Chairperson of the Security Council to bring the attention of Kofi Annan, the Special Envoy for the United Nations and the League of Arab States, to the importance of ensuring that the provisions of the international conventions regarding protection of cultural property are respected, especially the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. UNESCO is in close contact with the UN Resident Coordinator in Damascus concerning the situation.

The Director-General urges all parties to respect and protect Syria’s great cultural legacy, which constitutes a source of identity and fulfilment for its people, and to abide by their international obligations in the area of culture.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A New Booklet Highlighting United States’ World Heritage Areas Published by Eastern National

FORT WASHINGTON, PA, July 23, 2012: The year 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention. Some 189 countries have signed on to the Convention making it perhaps the most nearly universal treaty for cultural preservation and nature conservation in human history.

In celebration of the Convention’s 40th anniversary, Eastern National and the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs have produced the new booklet World Heritage Sites in the United States. The booklet highlights the 21 sites in the United States that have been selected and inscribed on the World Heritage List for their natural or cultural significance that makes them of outstanding universal value. From Independence Hall to the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, the booklet includes some of the United States’ most iconic sites and some lesser-known ones that have earned inclusion on the prestigious World Heritage List.

As part of Eastern National’s Passport To Your National Parks® program and the Passport Commemorative Series, this booklet includes a block on each page for visitors to get their booklet canceled with a Passport stamp that records the name of the site and the date of the visit. Cancellations are free and are usually available at a park’s visitor center.

“We are privileged to have a wealth of World Heritage sites designated in the United States,” said George Minnucci, Chief Executive Officer of Eastern National. “We are thrilled to offer this publication as one of the only guides available to these hallowed sites, and hope that it encourages visitation and interest in the World heritage areas of the United States.”

The World Heritage Sites in the United States is available now for $4.95 on http://www.eparks.com/ . For more information on this publication or the Passport To Your National Parks® program, please visit http://www.eparks.com/ or call 1-877-NAT-PARK (1-877-628-7275). Wholesale opportunities are available.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Twenty-six new sites inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List this year

The World Heritage Committee on Monday morning inscribed Lena Pillars Nature Park of the Russian Federation, the last site to be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List during this year’s session. Chad, Congo, Palau and Palestine had World Heritage sites inscribed on the List for the first time.

For the complete list of new sites, click here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Palestine nominates birthplace of Jesus in controversial UNESCO World Heritage bid

Palestine, recognized last October as the 195th member state by the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), recently launched its first initiative as a full-fledged government in the Paris-based agency, nominating the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and a traditional pilgrimage route to be listed as an endangered site on the World Heritage List.

The fate of the Palestinian bid will be decided along with 35 other sites by a commission of 21 state parties to the World Heritage Convention at a June 24-July 6 conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. But the case has already become embroiled in controversy.

The Palestinian action, of course, has broader political significance, representing a new assertion of sovereignty in a place -- Bethlehem -- where Palestinians police the streets but Israel exercises control over what goes in and out.

And the move is clearly opposed by Israel and the United States, who have objected to the Palestinian effort to secure the rights of statehood through the United Nations, rather than through negotiated settlement with Israel.

But the initiative has run into problems that have little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In its submission, the Palestinians argued that the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ had fallen into disrepair as a result of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967 and that internationally sponsored emergency repairs were needed to prevent the site from collapsing. Israel, the Palestinians claim, has also imposed limits on free movement that have undercut efforts to import basic supplies to maintain the building.

But the World Heritage List's own advisory body, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), has dismissed those claims, contending in a detailed review of the nomination that the site is not actually in such dire straits and that it does not require emergency care.

The most serious threats to the preservation of the holy places, according to ICOMOS, are unregulated tourism, rampant development, and the failure of the three religious denominations -- the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Church -- that own separate parts of the complex to agree on a conversation plan.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Secretary Salazar Approves San Antonio Missions for World Heritage Nomination

Missions one step closer to prestigious status; play key role in tourism and jobs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – At the historic Mission Concepción, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the Department of the Interior has officially authorized the San Antonio Franciscan Missions for nomination to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List.

Secretary Salazar’s visit to the urban parks of San Antonio is part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century approach to conservation Century and to reconnect Americans to our nation’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage – growing outdoor recreation, travel and tourism economy and creating jobs in communities across the country.

“World Heritage Sites represent an incredible opportunity for the United States to market our most significant places as destinations for domestic and international travelers,” said Secretary Salazar. “San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves four missions that embody the cultural roots of this great city and represents the single largest concentration of Spanish Colonial resources in the United States. As we continue to make progress in achieving this prestigious status for the Missions and for San Antonio, we also are moving forward to make America the world’s number one tourist destination – creating jobs and growing our economy.”

Today’s announcement represents a key step in an official process whereby the National Park Service will propose the nomination to the 21-nation World Heritage Committee during the next available round of nominations. It comes as the U.S. National Committee for ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) celebrates the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention as part of its annual international symposium, held this year in San Antonio, where Secretary Salazar delivered remarks last night.

The nomination dossier will be completed by the end of 2013, in time for consideration by the World Heritage Committee in 2015.

World Heritage listing is a prestigious designation that acknowledges the historical, cultural or natural value of a site, as well as the commitment of the sovereign nation and the site’s owners to its long-term protection and management. Under the World Heritage Convention, the Secretary of the Interior is charged with identifying and nominating worthy U.S. sites that display superlative cultural and/or natural attributes for designation.

Current World Heritage Sites in the United States include some of our most iconic places, ranging from historic places such as Independence Hall and Mesa Verde to spectacular natural parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

The San Antonio Franciscan Missions, currently on the Tentative List of Potential Future Nominations and recently recommended for World Heritage nomination by the Federal Interagency Panel for World Heritage, includes four missions (San Antonio Missions National Historical Park) and the Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero).

“The missions represent an important – and often overlooked – chapter of our nation’s history,” Salazar added. “It’s important that visitors from around the world know and celebrate the contributions of Latinos to the fabric of America, and these missions help tell that story in a very real way.”

The World Heritage Convention in many ways extends and elaborates on the national park concept, first developed in the United States, on the global scale. Better marketing of these sites to international travelers is a critical part of the Obama administration’s National Tourism and Travel Strategy (pdf), which delivered on President Obama’s call in January for a national strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States.

In his remarks, Secretary Salazar noted the strong economic benefits offered by the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Attracting more than 1.6 million visitors a year, the Park supports nearly $100 million in economic activity annually. Those dollars translate into over 1,100 jobs for the local San Antonio community. A National Parks Conservation Association report estimated that a $1 investment in the park yields $16 in local economic activity.

International travelers tend to stay longer and spend more on everything from hotels, to restaurants, to rental cars and airfare. As the national economy continues to recover, making the U.S. an even more attractive international destination, better highlighting our most significant attractions – like the San Antonio Missions – and facilitating the arrival of international travelers will create homegrown jobs in the travel and tourism industry and encourage economic growth.