How to Become a World Heritage Site

Every year, UNESCO updates a list of World Heritage Sites: places around the globe that are particularly significant for their natural and/or cultural value. These sites represent a heritage for the whole humanity, and their status grants them further protection and conservation. At the moment, UNESCO's 195 member countries have signaled more than 1,600 national and trans-national sites that they consider of cultural and natural interest, but only few will be included in UNESCO's exclusive list. In fact, becoming a World Heritage is not an easy task, even for some of the most beautiful and breath-taking spots of the globe. Here's how the selection procedure works, with illustration of interesting facts and stats for each step.

Tentative Lists and Nomination

A site can be considered for nomination only if a country has placed it into its Tentative List: a collection of the locations it considers a heritage for humanity. For about 90% of the spots currently in these lists, the countries have filed the submission in the second half of the 1990's. These are the candidates for nomination that have been in the list for a longer time (prior to the 1990's): all except one from Bulgaria or Ukraine.

Every year, countries plan which sites from their tentative list they want to submit as World Heritage nominees, and send the required documents for evaluation.

Evaluation: Advisory Bodies and Committee

UNESCO's member countries file the nominations to the Advisory Bodies, who then express their opinion to the World Heritage Committee. There are ten criteria - six cultural and four natural - which the Advisory Bodies and the Committee examine when making the evaluation. To become a World Heritage, a site has to meet at least one of them.  Currently, the classification sees most of the sites as Cultural Heritage (77%), and only about 20% are Natural Heritage.

The following table shows the criteria for which a site is inscribed as a World Heritage, along with the count of how many of the current 981 locations fall in each of them. Note that each site can respond to more than one criteria for election.

Inscription in the World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee meets once a year to make decisions on the new sites to inscribe in its list. The fist entries were added in 1978, when 12 new locations were taken under UNESCO's protection. 

Ever since, more and more sites followed, and this is these are the top 10 years that accepted most new entries 

Delisted: Two Former World Heritage Sites

More than thirty years have passed since the first inscriptions in the List, and only two sites have ever been delisted. A location gets crossed off the list when UNESCO feels that it fails to meet the criteria for which it was inscribed to the list in the first place.

In the case of Germany's Dresden Elbe Valley, the building of a controversial bridge dented the outstanding universal value of the Valley. 

UNESCO decided to delist the Arabian Onyx Sanctuary because Oman explicitly infringed the Convention's principles when it unilaterally decided to reduce the area by 90%