World Heritage as a placebo brand: A comparative analysis of three sites and marketing implications

Bailey Ashton Adie, C. Michael Hall, Girish Prayag

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The UNESCO World Heritage (WH) List is often regarded as a successful tourism brand that motivates site nominations. However, there is relatively little research dealing specifically with WH brand attraction effects, and what does exist shows conflicting results. There is a significant research gap in terms of awareness of the WH brand and its potential impact on visitation, which this study seeks to fill through a comparative analysis of three diverse case studies: Independence Hall, USA; Studenica Monastery, Serbia; and the Archaeological Site of Volubilis, Morocco. Survey data (n = 771) from these three sites were collected and analyzed resulting in three distinct clusters of visitors. One of the clusters does exhibit higher levels of awareness of the WH brand, but members of this group were not motivated by this knowledge when planning their site visit. It is concluded that the WH brand may function as a placebo, and that its importance may be tied more to political interests than economic advancement. Thus, dependency on the WH List for tourism development may potentially be detrimental for locations in the long term. The WH brand's placebo effect could result in long-term problems for both the site and those whose livelihoods depend on tourism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-415
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2017


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