Vikings, World Heritage and tourism

The book Feasible Management of Archaeological Heritage Sites Open to Tourism edited by Anne-Marie Willems and Douglas Cromer is around the corner! I am contributing with a chapter on tourism strategies at the the Vestfold Ship Burials – the famous Viking burial mounds of Oseberg, Gokstad and Borre.

The work that went into this chapter was undertaken a small lifetime ago (2013-2014) when I was working at the Vestfold County Authority on a transnational World Heritage nomination on Viking Age sites. First presented at a session on sustainable heritage tourism at the 2015 EAA in Glasgow, it is great to see the publication finally materialising. While the nomination was deferred at the 2015 World Heritage session in Bonn, the transnational scope has been abadoned and Germany has gone solo and saw Hedeby and Danevirke World Heritage listed this year, the chapter is broad enough in scope to still be relevant: Providing a brief overview of World Heritage and tourism before drawing out transferrable lessons learned, the chapter is usefil for any site manager considernig a move towards more strategic, instrumental use of archaeological heritage sites, World Heritage sites or otherwise.

Abstract of the chapter: Vikings and World Heritage – Towards new strategic synergies?

“As the formal preparations for the World Heritage nomination “Viking Age Sites in Northern Europe” began in 2008, the first large scale studies of World Heritage impact were undertaken. Using one of their key findings – that the minority of sites experiencing growth in tourism did so largely because of their active and strategic use of the status – the paper discusses how the studies served as a catalyst informing the recent heritage tourism initiatives between local and regional heritage administration, tourism and volunteer sectors at “The Vestfold Ship Burials” (Norway), one of the seven component parts making up the World Heritage nomination of Viking Age Sites in Northern Europe. Initiated as part of a nomination process, the article provides some of the lessons learned relevant when considering a move towards strategic, instrumental use of heritage sites – World Heritage Sites or otherwise.”

Synopsis of the book: Feasible Management of Archaeological Heritage Sites Open to Tourism.

“Archaeological sites opened to the public, and especially those highly photogenic sites that have achieved iconic status, are often major tourist attractions. By opening an archaeological site to tourism, threats and opportunities will emerge.The threats are to the archaeological record, the pre-historic or historic materials in context at the site that can provide facts about human history and the human relationship to the environment.  The opportunities are to share what can be learned at archaeological sites and how it can be learned. The latter is important because doing so can build a public constituency for archaeology that appreciates and will support the potential of archaeology to contribute to conversations about contemporary issues, such as the root causes and possible solutions to conflict among humans and the social implications of environmental degradation.

In this volume we will consider factors that render effective management of archaeological sites open to the public feasible, and therefore sustainable. We approach this in two ways: The first is by presenting some promising ways to assess and enhance the feasibility of establishing effective management. Assessing feasibility involves examining tourism potential, which must consider the demographic sectors from which visitors to the site are drawn or might be in the future, identifying preservation issues associated with hosting visitors from the various demographic sectors, and the possibility and means by which  local communities might be engaged  in identifying issues and generating long-term support for effective management. The second part of the book will provide brief case studies of places and ways in which the feasibility of sustainable management has been improved.”

Photo: Borre – one of the sites included in the Vestfold Ship Burials, taken by Terje Gansum, Vestfold fylkeskommune.