The aim of the project was to identify opportunities and perspectives for sustainable socio-economic development in the Wadden Sea region, resulting from the designation of the Wadden Sea as World Heritage, by developing a consistent transnational sustainable tourism strategy including marketable tourism offers in cooperation with local and regional stakeholders in the Wadden Sea region.
As in many other areas of the North Sea, the Wadden Sea coast has experienced significant structural economic and social, as well as demographic changes. About 75,000 people live on the islands, and 3.7 million along the mainland coast. Over the last generations, the importance of agriculture and fisheries in the Wadden Sea has decreased leading to less employment opportunities and out-migration of young people.
The harbour and shipping industry has increased, but is mainly located in a few centres. Nowadays, the main economic driver in most parts of the Wadden Sea regions is the tourism industry. About 70 million day-trippers, 10 million arrivals and 50 million overnight stays are registered annually resulting in a turnover of about 5.6 Billion Euro per year (source QSR 2009). On average, an annual increase of 2% in visitor numbers has been observed over the last 30 years.
There is a concern that a further increase may have negative impacts on the nature values, but also on the business itself, especially during the peak season in summer. In some parts of the Wadden Sea region, a cooperation between nature conservation agencies and the tourism industry has been established to minimize the impacts. However, because of the small-scale and diverse structures, a consistent, transnational approach to tourism operations is still missing.
With the designation of the Dutch-German Wadden Sea as a transnational World Heritage site in 2009, there is an additional obligation to protect and maintain the ecosystem for future generations. The Danish Wadden Sea is not yet part of the World Heritage Site, but the State Parties (The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark) were requested by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to include also the Danish part of the Wadden Sea into the World Heritage Site. The designation as World Heritage Site has significantly increased the interest in the Wadden Sea on the national and international level, which provides an opportunity to develop the tourism industry accordingly.
At the same time, the designation gives perspective for further socio-economic development. A recent research report and analysis of the socio-economic impact potential in the over 800 UNESCO World Heritage Sites has provided a deeper understanding of what the perspectives and opportunities are, and the communities can benefit from the designation (Rebanks 2010), by increased media and PR value, a new identity image, an enhanced cultural glue, the economic development, a higher demand for educational products, an enhanced civic pride and a stimulation of business development.
The Wadden Sea property is one and indivisible. Only by joining forces will the true potential of Wadden Sea brand be used.