via South China Morning Post, 21 November 2020: As Covid-19 slows tourism around the world to a standstill, the downtime gives sites like the Plain of Jars time to upgrade their facilities and plan more holistic approaches to site management.
Most sites see a dramatic change after being put on the Unesco World Heritage List. Visitor numbers shoot up, investors domestic and international flock to the location, and there is a flurry of media interest and community activity. Yet, a year after the July 2019 listing of the Plain of Jars in Laos, things have been quiet – largely because of Covid-19.
While overenthusiastic development has been the biggest headache for many World Heritage Sites, too few visits and too little economic activity can be equally worrying.
Although conservation is the primary purpose for a listing, many countries seek recognition with a more pragmatic view of increasing a site’s international profile and earning income for communities. The pandemic is affecting the welfare of people and organisations in a listed area, and also efforts to safeguard it – a situation that is not limited to the Plain of Jars but pertains to World Heritage Sites worldwide.
The pandemic-induced downtime is providing opportunities to improve presentation and management of the sites. Recent visitors have been greeted by new signs explaining various World Heritage components that have been implemented with New Zealand’s support. The signs complement earlier investments overhauling the Xieng Khouang provincial museum and upgrading facilities at the marquee Jar Site 1, including a visitor centre, cafe, handicraft shops, parking and toilets.