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Cultural  Heritage of  Southeast  Asia :

Preservation  for  World  Recognition




Associate Professor Dr . A Ghafar Ahmad

School of Housing , Building and Planning

Universiti Sains Malaysia , 11800 Penang , Malaysia

(Paper published in Journal of Malaysian Town Plan,  Vol. 03, Issue 01, January 2006. pg. 52-62)




1.0   Introduction

Culture and heritage are often considered as the fundamental aspects underpinning a country’s national identity and sovereignty. Cultural heritage including historic buildings, sites, cultures and other invaluable assets are the distinguished elements that encapsulate a nation’s soul and spirit. The cultural heritage of Malaysia and those of other Southeast Asian (SEA) countries are unique as they portray the vibrant, largely traditional communities thriving in a culture of tolerance, peace, diversity and continuity in the midst of modernization and social change. As items of national pride, cultural resources of many Southeast Asian countries have been promoted as tourism products to generate income. Abandoned historic buildings for instance have been restored and adaptive-reused for more lucrative uses including museums, galleries, restaurants and information kiosks to attract tourists; a common practice found in many European cities. Following in this footstep, the cultural heritage of Southeast Asia has been instrumental in the development and promotion of tourism industry in this region. The cultural heritage of these countries has also earned the distinction of being enlisted in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.


This article discusses the concepts of cultural heritage with special references to the Southeast Asian countries. It also examines the definitions of cultural heritage from the perspectives of both UNESCO and ASEAN Declarations. Several key issues and challenges confronting the perpetuity of the multi-cultural heritage of this region are explored in the light of immediate threats and pressures of rapid urban development. Initiatives undertaken by the respective governing bodies and the grassroots in the Southeast Asian countries are also highlighted as a means to safeguard the cultural heritage for the benefits of the future generations.


2.0          Definitions  of  Cultural  Heritage

As cultures and heritage are irreplaceable, their particular forms and means of tangible and intangible expressions that constitute the community heritage values should be promoted as an essential aspect of human development.[1] Culture is defined as the whole complex of distinct spiritual, intellectual, emotional and material features that characterize a particular society or social group and its way of life. Culture includes the arts and literatures as well as lifestyles, value systems, creativity, knowledge systems, traditions and beliefs.2 Cultural properties are often shared, learned, symbolic, transmitted across generations, adaptive, and integrated. On the other hand, heritage refers to “an inheritance or a legacy; things of value which have been passed from one generation to the next”.3 A wider definition of heritage encompasses the traditional notions of heritage as cultures, places and buildings as well as archives and records, and the impact of technology. Heritage, which relates to the remains of the past should be well preserved as national treasures and be cherished to posterity.


The concept of cultural heritage invariably differs from one nation or region to another. In a broad sense, it is perceived as movable and immovable assets of artistic, literary, architectural, historical, archaeological, ethnological, scientific or technological values that embody the essence of a nation.4 Recognizing the significance of cultural heritage and developing the relevant general criteria provide the rationale for subsequent management decisions pertaining to conservation, preservation, access and the delivery of related conservation programs.


The United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) has since promoted various conventions and other instruments for the conservation of cultural heritage, including the following:5

·        Recommendation Concerning International Competitions in Architecture and Town Planning (1956);

·        Recommendations on International Principles Applicable to Archaeological Excavations (1956);

·        Recommendations Concerning the Safeguarding of the Beauty and Character of Landscapes and Sites (1962);

·        Recommendations Concerning the Preservation of Cultural Property Endangered by Public or Private Works (1968);

·        Recommendations Concerning the Protection at National Level of the Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972);

·        Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) which introduced the concept of World Heritage Sites;

·        Recommendations Concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas (1976).


Specifically, the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) has defined cultural heritage by the following classifications:6

·        Monuments: architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;

·        Groups of buildings: groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science;

·        Sites: works of man or the combined works of nature and of man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological points of view.


Meanwhile, an International Charter for the Conservation of Monuments (or The Venice Charter) adopted by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in 1956 marked an important milestone for the conservation movement.7 The Venice Charter emphasizes the importance of respect for original building fabric, precise documentation of intervention, the significance of contributions from all periods to the building character, and the maintenance of historic buildings. Other standards, charters, recommendations and conventions had followed suit in the interest of protecting and enhancing the historic and cultural environment. Some of the more outstanding documents include:

·        The Burra Charter, the Australian ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (1981) which introduced the concept of cultural significance relating to the aesthetic, historic, scientific or social value for past, present and future generations;

·        Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Heritage Value (ICOMOS New Zealand, 1992);

·        Preservation Charter for the Historic Towns and Areas of the United States of America (US ICOMOS, 1992); and

·        Guidelines for Education and Training in the Conservation of Monuments, Ensembles and Sites (1993).


Closer to home, ASEAN8 member countries through the ASEAN Declaration on Cultural Heritage outlined in July 2000 in Bangkok, Thailand have provided a definition of cultural heritage in a regional context. They have recognized cultural heritage as being inclusive of the following connotations:9

·        significant cultural values and concepts;

·        structures and artifacts: dwellings, buildings for worship, utility structures, works of visual arts, tools and implements, that are of a historical, aesthetic, or scientific significance;

·        sites and human habitats: human creations or combined human creations and nature, archaeological sites and sites of living human communities that are of outstanding value from a historical, aesthetic, anthropological or ecological viewpoint, or, because of its natural features, of considerable importance as habitat for the cultural survival and identity of particular living traditions;

·        oral or folk heritage: folkways, folklore, languages and literature, traditional arts and crafts, architecture, and the performing arts, games, indigenous knowledge systems and practices, myths, customs and beliefs, rituals and other living traditions;

·        the written heritage;

·        popular cultural heritage: popular creativity in mass cultures (i.e. industrial or commercial cultures), popular forms of expression of outstanding aesthetic, anthropological and sociological values, including the music, dance, graphic arts, fashion, games and sports, industrial design, cinema, television, music video, video arts and cyber art in technologically-oriented and urbanized communities.


The ASEAN Declaration was underlined by a mutual understanding that cultural traditions were integral to the preservation of ASEAN intangible heritage, so much so that their conservation, documentation and promotion rendered a high priority. Cultural discourse and awareness would further enhance an inter-cultural appreciation of ASEAN cultural heritage for sustaining regional peace and harmony. The protection of ASEAN cultural heritage, including curbing illicit trade and trafficking would require a concerted effort among member countries supported by the international community.


3.0   Southeast Asian Cultural Properties Inscribed on the World Heritage List

Based on the current working definitions and interpretations of cultural heritage, it is noteworthy that most Southeast Asian countries fit well within this framework as they possess immense historical, architectural, archeological and cultural values that are timeless and treasured by all, especially the tourists. The cultural heritage of several countries in this region have been inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List (WHL) to represent an outstanding universal value as well as a masterpiece of human creativity. A total of 14 cultural properties in Southeast Asia have been listed in the WHL by January 2001. They are located in 6 countries including Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Vietnam (refer to Table 1). The following section describes the respective cultural properties in turn:10


3.1                           Angkor , Cambodia

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia . Stretching over 400 square km, including a forested area, the Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire dating from the 9th to 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and the Bayan Temple at Angkor Thom with its countless sculptural decorations.


3.2                           Borobudur Temple Compounds , Indonesia

This famous Buddhist temple, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, is located in central Java. It was built in three tiers; namely a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces; the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms; and at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,500 square meters. Around the circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha. The monument was restored with assistance from the UNESCO in the 1970s.



Table  1: Southeast  Asian  cultural  properties  inscribed  on  the

UNESCO’s  World  Heritage  List  by  January  2001



Southeast Asian Countries

Cultural Properties

Year of Inscription







a.    Angkor




a.       Borobudur Temple Compounds

b.      Prambanan Temple Compounds

c.       Sangiran Early Man Site





Laos PDR

a.       Town of Luang Prabang












a.       Baroque Churches of the Philippines

b.      Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

c.       Historic Town of Vigan











a.    Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

b.      Historic City of Ayutthaya and Associated Historic Towns

c.       Ban Chiang Archaeological Site








a.       Complex of Hue Monuments

b.      Hoi An Ancient Town

c.       My Son Sanctuary





Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 2001


3.3                           Prambanan Temple Compound , Indonesia

Built in the 10th century, Prambanan is the largest temple compound built in Indonesia . Rising above the centre of the last of these concentric squares are three temples decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana. These temples were dedicated to the three great Hindu divinities (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) while three other temples were dedicated to the animals that served them.


3.4                           Sangiran Early Man Site , Indonesia

Excavation works conducted from 1936 to 1941 led to the discovery of the first hominid fossils at this site. Some 50 fossils of the Meganthropus palaeo and Pithecanthropus erectus/Homo erectus were found, constituting half of all known hominid fossils worldwide. Inhabited for the past one and a half million years, Sangiran is one of the key sites for the study of human evolution.


3.5                           Town of Luang Prabang, Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusions of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.


3.6                           Baroque Churches of the Philippines , Philippines

These four churches, the first of which was built by the Spanish in the late 16th century, are located in Manila , Santa Maria , Paoay and Miag-ao, respectively. Their unique architectural styles are a reminiscent of the European Baroque, loosely reinterpreted by the local Chinese and Philippine craftsmen.


3.7                           Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras , Philippines

For 2,000 years, the high rice fields of the Ifugao in the Philippines have been planted with respect to the contours of the mountains. The fruits of knowledge were handed down from one generation to the next, while expressions of sacred traditions and the delicate social balance were articulated. The community has carved a landscape of profound beauty that expresses simple harmony between mankind and the environment.


3.8                           Historic Town of Vigan , Philippines

Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia . Its architecture reflects the coming together of diverse cultural elements from the Philippines , China and Europe, resulting in a rare culture and townscape that have no parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia .


3.9                           Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns, Thailand

Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries. It boats several fine monuments that marked the beginnings of Thai architecture. The great civilization of the Sukhothai Kingdom absorbed many influences and ancient local traditions; the rapid assimilation of all these elements is known as the ‘Sukhothai style’.


3.10                       Historic City of Ayutthaya and Associated Historic Towns, Thailand

Founded c. 1350, Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, illustrate the grandeur of its past splendour.


3.11                       Ban Chiang Archaeological Site , Thailand

Ban Chiang is considered as the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in Southeast Asia . It marks an important stage in human cultural, social and technological evolutions. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region as well as manufacturing and the use of metals.


3.12                       Complex of Hue Monuments , Vietnam

Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hue was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centers under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the Capital City , the Imperial City , the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this rare feudal capital an ambience of magnificent natural beauty.


3.13                       Hoi An Ancient Town , Vietnam

Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century. Its buildings and street plan reflect both indigenous and foreign influences, combined to produce this unique heritage setting.


3.14                       My Son Sanctuary , Vietnam

Between the 4th and 13th centuries a unique culture that owned its spiritual origins to Indian Hinduism developed on the coast of contemporary Vietnam . This area is illustrated by the remains of impressive tower-temples located in a site that was the religious and political capital of the Kingdom of Champa for most of its existence.


It is clear from the discussion that most Southeast Asian countries possess a vast array of cultural resources that signify a legacy of great civilizations and value systems. To protect and promote the integrity of these cultural properties, it is imperative that these countries work together to establish national and regional inventories, databases and networks of academia, governments, archives, museums, galleries, art centers, training centers, mass media agencies and others concerned with cultural heritage and their documentation, conservation and promotion.


4.0  Nomination  of  Georgetown   for  the  World  Heritage  List

Malaysia ’s cultural property has yet to make an entry into the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Much effort has been geared towards nominating the city of Georgetown , Penang for the listing. The nomination of Georgetown was based on its outstanding universal values depicting a fine example of the 18th to 20th century architectural ensemble of European, Malay, Chinese and India origins. Such architectural fusions illustrate the legacy of multi-culturalism of the Straits Settlements and the mercantile history of the Straits of Melaka. It also displays the intact streetscape and the matrix of socio-economic activities existing within the heritage city contending the course of modernization and social change.


The nomination exercise has witnessed a total of 108 hectares of Georgetown inner city areas being proposed for conservation for its exceptional universal values. These areas have been categorized into 5 important zones as follows:11

·        Cultural precinct: Chulia-Love-Muntri Street ;

·        Historic commercial center: Little India and traditional business communities;

·        Waterfront business-financial district: Banking, shipping and corporate business;

·        Mosque and clan house enclave: Religious buildings, clan houses and small businesses;

·        Market and shopping precinct: Traditional retail and neighbouring markets.

In August 2002, Georgetown came into the limelight after being listed in the World’s 100 Most Endangered Site by the World Monuments Watch (WMW) of the World Monuments Fund (WMF) based in the USA . The reason being the city’s historic buildings were mostly at risk. The WMF’s List of 100 Most Endangered Sites is issued biennially to identify any historic sites that face significant peril. Nominations were solicited from various ministries of culture, US embassies and related international and local preservation bodies. WMW draws attention to the plight of the world’s most endangered sites and assist in their protection. Following the exposure, Georgetown had received a grant of US$80,000 from The American Express Foundation for the preservation of the city’s cultural historic enclaves.12


Nonetheless, historic buildings in Georgetown have largely survived the decades amidst rapid development and urbanization. Some buildings are structurally intact, whilst others are dilapidated and left abandoned. Till this date, only 11 out of thousands of buildings and monuments in Penang have been gazetted under the Antiquities Act 1976; a condition that provides these buildings some protection and encourages their preservation. Initiatives should be undertaken to gazette more historic monuments and buildings in Georgetown for their integrity and perpetuity.


5.0  Cultural Heritage Tourism

Tourism, including the cultural heritage segment, has been identified as one of the key growth industries over the next decades. International tourism arrival worldwide has been increasing by about 4.3% per year and that spending has been rising by about 6.7% per year, resulting in issues of managing tourism growth and sustaining economic development.13 Cultural heritage tourism, in particular is fast becoming one of the leading tourism sectors in Southeast Asia . This region is endowed with vast, ancient cultural heritage that has shaped much of the lives and value systems of the local populace. The inclusion of 14 Southeast Asia ’s cultural properties in the WHL has showcased unique cultural traditions including traditional human settlements and prominent architecture that helped boost the region’s heritage tourism market. In 1999, 19.73 million foreign tourists from world top markets including the USA , Canada , China , Japan , Holland , France , Austria , Germany , Italy and the UK had visited the ASEAN countries.14 A continuous influx of foreign tourists into this region has increased job opportunities for the locals in various sectors including accommodation, tour agencies and guides, handicrafts and restaurants.


Malaysian tourism has also enjoyed an impressive average growth of 9.26% between 1981 and 2000, making tourism the second most important sector of the country’s economy. Despite the scare of September 11, 2001 over 12.7 million tourists had visited Malaysia in 2001, bringing over US$6.3 billion in revenue, up US$1.8 billion compared to the 2000 figures.15 International tourist arrival in Malaysia has also grown significantly. In 2002, Malaysia recorded a 54% growth in tourist arrival due to intensive promotional blitz worldwide. A recent research has further revealed that foreign tourists had visited Malaysia mostly for its cultural and historical uniqueness.16


Cultural heritage tourism is unique as it offers the opportunity to portray and experience the past in the present through an endless possibility of interpretive and presentation techniques. It allows the local community to define its culture and narrate its own story. Cultural heritage tourism has several objectives to be achieved within the context of sustainable tourism development. They include conservation of cultural resources; articulate interpretation of resources; authentic experiences for visitors; as well as understanding the tourism framework and the impact on communities and regions.17 Tourism in Southeast Asia continues to play an important role in community economic development despite a significant pressure placed on heritage resources. Issues of urbanization, poverty and lack of funding present a management challenge for cultural heritage tourism in Southeast Asia .


6.0    Issues  and  Challenges  of  Cultural  Heritage

Strategies aimed at promoting cultural heritage as Southeast Asian’s critical tourism asset have encountered many obstacles. They include the lack of resources for heritage inventory and assessment; inadequate regulative frameworks; poor understanding of building materials; low commitment to maintenance of heritage assets; as well as the paucity of training initiatives and limited employment opportunities in this sector. Such problems were further compounded by the realities of globalization with rapid economic development, continuous urbanization and changing population dynamics. Several key issues and challenges facing the sustainability of multi-cultural heritage of Southeast Asia are discussed as follows:


6.1   Urbanization  and  Demographic  Trends

The World Population Prospects, The 2000 Revision report has stated that the world population would reach 6.1 billion by mid-2000 with a growth rate of 1.2% per year18; which translates to an annual addition of 77 million people. Six countries account for nearly 50% of the annual increase, namely India (21%), China (12%), Pakistan (5%), Nigeria (4%), Bangladesh (4%), and Indonesia (3%). By the same token, the Southeast Asian population, generally at relatively younger median age, is estimated to increase significantly over the decades.

Urbanization is a significant trend in cities of the developing world. About 120 million people across the globe have moved to the cities, mainly for economic gains, and a similar pattern has been observed in the industrializing countries of Southeast Asia .19 Greater urbanization demands high investments in urban infrastructure including housing, transportation, and water and sewerage services. National authorities are also faced with challenges in environmental protection to ensure the provision of good air and water quality, as well as overall quality of life.

Heritage cities typically represent places of lively social life and passionate cultural events. The urban lifestyle is part and parcel of cultural heritage that should be sustained for future generations. Nonetheless, factors of urbanization, demographic change, over-consumerism, changing lifestyles and consumption patterns among city dwellers have imposed a major turnabout in the way of life in Southeast Asian cities. Many old historic areas in the region are in danger of being demolished in the name of progress. Research in Georgetown has shown that many single, young urban professionals had fled the heritage inner city because they considered life there was rather dull.20 They had preferred condominium living in the urban fringes equipped with swimming pools and air-conditioning, rather than staying in shop houses with air-well ventilation. They had also frequented Starbucks’s coffee more so than the traditional coffee shops at the corner. Wet market and sundry shops were also losing customers to upbeat hypermarkets. Consequently, many pre-war historic buildings in Georgetown under the now defunct Rent Control Act were left abandoned.21 Such profound changes in contemporary urban society have affected the pulse and rhythm of the heritage cities in Southeast Asia .


6.2  Poor  Forms  of  Governance

There is a growing recognition that conservation of cultural heritage is a shared responsibility among all levels of government, proponents, and the community at large. There has been a significant shift from simply making an inventory of heritage resources towards an integrated and holistic approach to heritage management. International experiences have shown that significant momentum and resources could be generated from interactions between heritage stakeholders, including those in the public, non-profit and private sectors.22 Heritage stakeholders should revitalize their mandates and strengthen their commitment, to include women and youths to complement conventional approaches to heritage stewardship. Citizens and heritage communities may well benefit from good heritage networks; many of which have spawned from the growth of Internet and ICT. However, the situation in many developing countries, including Southeast Asian is rather dismal. Policies, institutions and infrastructure for heritage stewardship, both governmental and non-governmental in Thailand , for example have remained ambiguous and haphazard.23


The roles of traditional forms of cultural stewardship such as mosques, churches, temples, monasteries and the waqf need to be revised so that stakeholders take on the shared responsibilities of care, conservation, maintenance and usage of heritage buildings and the surroundings. The governments hence play a pivotal role in recognizing the potentials of private and public sector enterprises in governing cultural heritage.24 The issue is to prioritize heritage conservation as a key element in city development, and to establish a framework for effective implementation.


6.3   Inappropriate  Management  Process

There has been a growing recognition of the role of cultural heritage as an engine of urban renewal and local community development, which may well contribute to an enhanced quality of life, increased investment and the development of sustainable economic ventures including tourism. It is critical to integrate cultural heritage conservation within a broader framework of sustainable development. This holistic approach entails the reuse, redevelopment and regeneration of cultural heritage assets, as well as their integration into the overall urban development process. Nonetheless, the task of conserving cultural heritage has remained a paramount challenge to the governments, the private sector and local communities.


A critical aspect in this approach is to conduct good documentation and preservation of cultural properties.25 Publications in a variety of formats include books, reports, brochures, guides, maps, and audio-visual products should be undertaken to target different users. Governments need to support research and documentation efforts by universities, research institutions, trusts and other private commissions involved in heritage conservation. Support can be in the forms of providing educational courses, personnel training, research activities, establishing museums and exhibitions.


Another important aspect in cultural heritage conservation is measuring the potential impacts of cultural heritage tourism development on the local communities. Despite considerable resource constraints, it is essential for the community to assess their effort in conserving cultural heritage as well as in improving their quality of life. Supportive measures and actions should be devised to designate the “‘cultural zones” within the area, produce integrated master plans for the area, eliminate inappropriate land-uses, develop design guidelines and urban streetscape and restore heritage structures. All actions should be carried out through smart partnership and collaborations between all levels of government and other stakeholders.


6.4  Lack  of  Funding  Resources

For decades cultural heritage conservation has been a low priority for governments throughout the Southeast Asia region and public sector investment in this domain has fallen far short of real needs. Most Southeast Asian countries are also faced with the scarcity of funding from international agencies. Moreover, the pricing structure of cultural heritage-based tourism is often vague, unlike other services or other forms of tourism. A lack of established benchmark has resulted in poor guidance in this area. Consequently, related cultural heritage business and services are at the danger of pricing themselves out of the market, or at times undercharging. As such, it is essential that local communities secure other forms of creative financing to increase the capacity and sustainability of their cultural heritage properties.


The challenge at hand is to stimulate, facilitate, strengthen and forge more innovative private and public sector partnerships to generate resources to champion the cause of cultural heritage. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) for instance leads the way in building new alliances to debate on key issues in cultural heritage conservation and to foster new connections and networking. The WMF has launched a regional network of participation, appraisal and partnership for heritage in Asia .


6.5 Ineffective Enforcement of Legislations

Establishing an enabling institutional and policy framework goes a long way in creating the incentives necessary to prioritize cultural heritage conservation. Having effective laws, legislations, rules and building codes are essential, alongside developing special conservation plans and zoning controls, and integrating them into the city overall master plans. Special units, commissions or agencies dealing with cultural heritage conservation should be set up within the existing local organizational and governance structures with full legislative, administrative and financial supports. Whilst conservation acts and enactments have been established, their enforcements have somewhat dwindled. The demolition of the historic Metropole Hotel (built in 1900) in Georgetown , Penang in 1993 was a classic example of the inadequacy of the Malaysian laws to protect heritage buildings.26 Despite the adoption of design guidelines, controversies still surround building heights and plot ratios allowances in the conservation zones. Such situation has caused substantial stagnations in investment flows in the inner city areas, affecting tourism promotion, infrastructure development and job generation.27


At a global level, cases of illicit traffic and looting of cultural heritage have also increased significantly all over the world. Some of the contributing factors include the globalization of the marketplace, including the arts; and rapid tourism growth, Concerted efforts are much needed to protect the cultural heritage resources to put an end to illegal trade of cultural artifacts in the Southeast Asia region.


6.6 Expectations of the New Tourists

Visitations to places of historical significance have gained much importance in the trend of ‘new tourists’ worldwide. Buildings, sites and items of significant historical background intrigue these tourists. Such emerging trend has enhanced the inherent value of historic buildings, prompting the authorities to upkeep their heritage assets. Today’s new tourists assume a different approach in their traveling behavior. Their expectations differ from those traveling solely for leisure. They demand much more than visiting a place for the sake of visiting. Rather than observing cultures confined within galleries, these tourists prefer living and experiencing the local cultures and indulging in the sense of the place with the local community.


This new dimension in the heritage tourist segment requires more an explicit display and demonstration of the local cultures and festivities on the city streets. However, it is necessary to develop a good understanding of the promise of cultural heritage tourism as well as its limitations, at the brink of growing threats posed by excessive mass tourism flows. As tourism is mainly a profit-generating industry, it is imperative that the governments as policy makers reconcile the quantitative measures with the aim of preserving the integrity of historical ensembles and sites.


6.7 Lack of Public Awareness

International models for developing sustainable approaches to safeguard heritage have shown that cultural heritage conservation is related to a number of factors. One key factor is the level of public knowledge, awareness and commitment to heritage.

In order to heighten public awareness, programmes and projects on awareness-building and heritage appreciation should be set up at the local level to inculcate strong heritage values amongst the community. Cultural heritage properties, particularly old buildings and others of architectural value, should be revitalized and revive to ensure that the buildings are economically viable and enhance the city's character. The public sector, NGOs and citizens groups play an instrumental role in pioneering conservation-related initiatives, generating ideas, fostering civic pride, as well as assisting in financial investments. All stakeholders should learn to deal with conflicts and to explore the creative use of partnerships to share knowledge, as well as risks, in cultural heritage tourism development.


City leadership in particular needs to rally full grassroots support to enhance public participation and heritage awareness. The ethic of participation makes it imperative for the community to be involved in cultural heritage conservation as a key ingredient of local development. Necessary mechanisms and process of heritage conservation should be developed and propagated so that cultural heritage properties may be transmitted to the future generations boasting full authentic quality.


6.8 Environmental Degradation

Heritage cities throughout the world are not only centers of civilization, but also main tourist destinations. Physical and socio-economic transformations that occur in the historic cities often lead to substantial environmental concerns. Man-induced factors in most urbanizing cities have resulted in environmental degradations including deforestation, soil erosion, land reclamation, traffic congestion, and water and air-borne chemical pollutants from automobiles and factory emissions. Heritage buildings in Georgetown , for instance have been cautioned against the risks of heavy traffic vibrations and air pollution. High concentrations of salt deposits and acute problems of rising damp diagnosed in heritage buildings in Georgetown have also raised a major concern regarding the British architectural legacy by the sea.


Whilst Southeast Asia is a region of great antiquity and treasures of the past, it has been unfortunate to observe fluctuating interests in cultural heritage protection.28 The social and cultural environments as well all material and non-material remnants of our history should all be enlisted as environmental priorities, to be protected along side the natural environment. Southeast Asian nations should realize the approach of smart partnerships and strategic alliances between the public and private sectors, NGOs and the community towards this new approach in environmental protection. The governments should introduce effective environmental legislations that propagate good environmental values amongst the community.


It is clear from the discussion that Southeast Asian countries are faced with a multitude of issues and challenges in protecting their cultural heritage to posterity. All conservation stakeholders need to work together to achieve sustainable planning and management of cultural heritage, including for tourism ventures. Leaderships of these countries need to reaffirm their stand to materialize the fruits of the ASEAN Declarations (2001) to ensure that their cultural properties are handed over to the next generation in their authentic forms.


7.0     Conclusions

The rich cultural heritage of Southeast Asia has been recognized as an asset that attracts visitors and generates income for this region Revitalization of heritage structures and precincts, and the development of cultural heritage tourism initiatives have fostered strong community ownership and helped ensure the values of cultural heritage. Innovative interpretations of historic sites, public art programmes and special cultural events are the essential ingredients of a successful agenda for cultural heritage tourism. Nonetheless, planning and management of cultural heritage tourism in Southeast Asia have met with several shortcomings. The major challenge has been to work effectively with all stakeholders in cultural heritage to understand the needs and constraints of the host communities, whilst at the same time upholding the principles of conserving cultural heritage.


The cultural heritage tourism segment in Southeast Asia reflects the need for strong government commitment and leadership to enforce effective regulations to protect cultural heritage from development threats. Several initiatives have been employed including fairs, exhibitions, seminars and workshops to gather more public awareness on the importance of cultural heritage conservation for tourism. The ASEAN symbol of solidarity should be realized through the establishment of smart partnerships for the transfer of know-how, technology and experience in managing the vibrant cultural heritage cities. Community participation at various levels would serve well in preserving the cultural fabric that shape and mould the notable heritage milieu of the Southeast Asian cities. In time, it is hoped that the intrinsic meanings and values of cultural heritage conservation would transcend all stakeholders, tourists, the NGOs, local communities as well as the younger generations.



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2 ASEAN Declaration On Cultural Heritage, Bangkok , Thailand , 24-25 July 2000, “Definition of Culture and Cultural Heritage” at

3 Richard Prentice, (1993), “Tourism and Heritage Attraction”, London : Routledge, p. 5.

4 Andi Mappi Sammeng, (1997), “Balancing Tourism Development and Heritage Conservation”, p. 76.

5 JK Gillon, at

6 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage: Adopted by the General Conference at Its Seventeenth Session, Paris , 16 November 1972”, pg. 1-2.

7 ICOMOS is an international non-governmental organization that promotes the study of theory, methodology and technology of conservation as applied to monuments, historic areas and sites.

8 ASEAN is the acronym for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations representing Brunei Darussalam, the Kingdom of Cambodia , the Republic of Indonesia , the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia , the Union of Myanmar, the Republic of the Philippines , the Republic of Singapore , the Kingdom of Thailand , and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.

9 “Definition of Culture and Culture Heritage” at

10 World Heritage Centre, (2001), “Brief Descriptions of Sites Inscribed on the World Heritage List”, Paris : UNESCO World Heritage Centre, p. 6-44.

11 Badaruddin Mohamed and A Ghafar Ahmad, “Heritage Route Along Ethnic Lines: The Case of Penang”, paper presented at the Australia ICOMOS Conference on Making Tracks from Point to Pathway: The Heritage of Route and Journeys, Alice Springs, Australia, 23-27 May 2001.

12 Penang ’s Georgetown Historic Enclave Receives US$80,000 Boost From American Express” at

13 Walter Jamieson (2000), “The Challenges of Sustainable Community Heritage Tourism”, UNESCO Conference/Workshop of Culture, Heritage Management and Tourism, Bhaktapur, April 2000 at


15 Badaruddin Mohamed and Nikmatul Adha Nordin, “Pemasaran Strategik Produk-produk Pelancongan Malaysia ”, paper presented at IPTA National Conference of Research and Development, Kuala Lumpur , 25 Sept. 2001.

16 Badaruddin Mohamed, et. al, “ Malaysia as a Destination: In the Eyes of International Tourists”, IRPA Research Report, Universiti Sains Malaysia , Penang , p. 61.

17 United Nations Sustainable Development, at http:www.un.irg/esa/sustdev/agenda21chapter28.html

18Health Situation in the South-East Asia Region, 1998-2000” at

19 “Population Trends Pose New Challenges for Asia - ADB Report” at

20 Loh Gak See (2001), “Consumption Patterns and Retail Activities in George Town ”.

21 Lai Khoon Hon (2000), “Retail Activities in George Town ”.

22 Willian S. Logan (1999), “Zoning and Land-Use Codes for Historic Preservation; The Melbourne Example”.

23 Yongtanit Pimonsathean, (1999), “Recent Efforts in Local-Based Urban Conservation in Thailand ”.

24 Hari Srivinas (1999), “Prioritizing Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region: Role of City Governments” at

 25 “Protection of Cultural Heritage in Southeast Asia ” at

 26 A Ghafar Ahmad (1997), “British Colonial Architecture In Malaysia 1800-1930”.

27 Nurwati Badarulzaman, (2001), “ Traditional Retailing in the Historic City of George Town , Penang , Malaysia ”.  

28 Anand Panyarachun, (1996), “Environmental Priorities in  Southeast Asia ”.