Heritage Conservation - Cultural Effects on Luang Prabang World Heritage City

This topic is an analysis of how livelihoods of Luang Prabang people have changed, focusing on changes related to policies of cultural heritage conservation and tourism.
First, following the conservation and tourism policies, many infrastructural development projects, funded by the Lao government and international organizations, were subsequently launched. Luang Prabang people had access to building materials and technical assistance to conserve their heritage buildings.
They could also earn income from jobs either in conservation projects or in tourist related activities. Business people from other parts of Lao PDR and from abroad invested and provided technical assistance to local people. With influx of cash flow, business people and tourists, demand for food caused prices to escalate to levels that local people could not afford. Increasing demand for land prompted some local residents to migrate out of the city. In addition, garbage and water pollution led to environmental degradation in the city.
Second, many Luang Prabang people chose to work or invest in tourist-related activities. Owners of heritage buildings converted their land and houses into hotels, guesthouses, shops, restaurants, massage parlors, ticket booking services and so on. Those who do not have heritage buildings found jobs in tourism or tourist-related activities. Those who were technically experienced produced traditional food and handicrafts for sale. Many local people, however, resented with conservation regulations being imposed on their property. The reasons were that they lost their rights to construction and repair of buildings and rights to land development. They had to pay for expensive traditional construction materials, and had to bear physical degradation of their gardens and ponds. Some resisted against conservation by using such tactics of everyday lives as neglecting responsibilities, disobeying regulations, foot dragging, gossips, slanders and silence.
Finally, the researcher recommended that, firstly, conservation should focus more on intangible cultural heritage. Secondly, local people should have an opportunity to participate in the conservation planning and management process. And thirdly, heritage buildings that belong to owners as well as to UNESCO and the Lao government should be under joint management.

Xayaphone Vongvilay
Head of the Department of Architecture
National University of lao PDR
xayaphone_v@yahoo.com

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