Re-visiting Luang Prabang: Transformations under the influence of world heritage designation

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This article examines the influence of a growing global tourism industry on the World Heritage City of Luang Prabang, Laos and more specifically the role played by the built environment in the transformations that have followed in the wake of its designation as a World Heritage City in 1995. Paradoxically, as increasing numbers of tourists seek to experience the extraordinary milieu of Luang Prabang, the physical and cultural landscapes that undergird this milieu are increasingly transformed by the pressures of global tourism. Using observations of tourists and residents, photographic documentation and comparison to United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) archival materials, we show that regulations intended to preserve the heritage of Luang Prabang, have valorized a particular aspect of the city’s history while effectively erasing others. As a result, the built environment of the city has been transformed into a tourist landscape. Simultaneously, the intangible heritage, the everyday life and experience of local populations are undermined as the built environment is transformed into touristfocused landscapes. This case study illustrates, and continued UNESCO concerns over development in Luang Prabang indicate, it is not enough to create a policy designed to protect the physical environment without simultaneously working to protect the embedded socio-cultural dimensions of heritage tourism destinations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-269
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Tourism and Cultural Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2009


  • Commodification
  • Construction (of place)
  • Globalization
  • Heritage tourism
  • Social and cultural change
  • Tourism impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies
  • Transportation
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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