European cultural heritage and tourism flows: The magnetic role of superstar World Heritage Sites

Elisa Panzera*, Thomas de Graaff, Henri L.F. de Groot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Cultural heritage is a potentially important determinant of international tourism flows. Apart from being an enrichment for both individuals and communities and an opportunity for different cultures to meet, tourism also represents a significant industry for European economies. We empirically investigate the impact of the endowment of tangible cultural heritage on tourism attractiveness of European regions. We measure material forms of cultural heritage both as regional density of locally defined monuments, cultural landscapes and museums, and as number of cultural sites listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites international programme. Using a Bayesian multilevel gravity model, we find that UNESCO cultural World Heritage Sites are associated with an increase of 6,000 (one site) to 60,000 (eight sites) international tourists from each European country to an average European region. On the other hand, regionally or nationally defined tangible forms of heritage play a more limited role as pull-factors for international tourism. Moreover, we show that the presence of UNESCO sites reduces the distance decay effect. International tourists are willing to travel longer distance if a destination is endowed with UNESCO cultural World Heritage Sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-122
Number of pages22
JournalPapers in Regional Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • cultural heritage
  • European regions
  • multilevel gravity model
  • tourism flows


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