Tourism to high-profile heritage sites is a worldwide industry of the first magnitude. For tourists to these sites, an enjoyable and enlightening visit is paramount. For custodians of this heritage, hosting visitors, displaying the site's cultural riches, and reaping economic benefits require high levels of integrated planning, management, and conservation, especially if this tourism is to be sustainable while preserving the site’s values.
In fall 2009, the GCI coorganized with the Dunhuang Academy (DA) and the Australian Department of Water, Heritage, and the Arts (DEWHA) an international workshop at the Mogao Grottoes, entitled "Advancing Sustainable Tourism at Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites." Designed to offer participants best-practice models for sustainable tourism management, this workshop arose from the long-standing collaboration among the GCI, DA, and DEWHA to develop a master plan (including visitor management) for Mogao, using the China Principles—a set of national guidelines for conservation and management of cultural heritage sites in China—as the guiding philosophy. More than one hundred international and Chinese experts in heritage and tourism conservation from twenty-one countries were in attendance to discuss ways to balance the pressures of rapid tourism growth with the need to conserve fragile heritage sites.
Since 1989 the GCI and the Dunhuang Academy have worked to conserve the cave temples at the Mogao Grottoes and to achieve balance between visitor needs and site preservation. The workshop showcased, through a panel session, the GCI and Dunhuang Academy's work to establish a visitor carrying capacity for the site in the context of a comprehensive visitor management plan undertaken by the DA, the GCI, and the DEWHA.
Research on visitation capacity to the site began by identifying the link between visitors to the caves and deterioration of the wall paintings over a number of years. This research has been incorporated into a simulation model and visitor management tool to manage visitors' numbers, movements, and experiences on the site in an integrated way.
The collaborative work at Mogao was identified by workshop participants as an international model of best practice for sustainable tourism management.
The GCI will continue working with the DA in the area of visitor management and site visitation capacity to validate the results of the study after the opening of the new visitor center. Jointly, the DA and the GCI will implement in Cave 85 a visitor interpretation plan, a viewing area, and a safe new lighting system.