"Touristification" endangers Heritage

The ultimate goal is to create a tourism planning protocol that contributes to preserving cultural heritage, avoiding overcrowding and agglomerations that could damage it and guaranteeing people's physical comfort and safety.
Architectural and cultural heritage and the urban environment where they are located are a defining element of the identity of the societies that host them and a key driver of the local economy.
Architectural and cultural heritage and the urban environment where they are located are a defining element of the identity of the societies that host them and a key driver of the local economy.

A study led by the PEGASO Research Centre of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) warns of the "emerging need" to identify preventive measures to ensure the conservation of heritage buildings and improve the tourist management, both these buildings and historic city centres.

This is one of the main conclusions of the HBIMSIG-TURISMO project, led by researchers María José Viñals and Concepción López González. The ultimate goal is to create a tourism planning protocol that contributes to preserving cultural heritage, avoiding overcrowding and agglomerations that could damage it and guaranteeing people's physical comfort and safety.

"Architectural and cultural heritage and the urban environment where they are located are a defining element of the identity of the societies that host them and a key driver of the local economy. Therefore, their conservation and proper management are essential to ensure their survival over time and to pass them on to future generations in good condition, especially when historic cities face tourist saturation problems," explains Mª José Viñals.

HBIM-SIG Platform

The UPV team has been working on new models that integrate spatial information (GIS) and information on architectural heritage elements (HBIM) into the HBIM-SIG platform. They incorporate data from environmental sensors and estimate the volume, density and behaviour of people flows.

This information makes it possible to identify problems related to the conservation of heritage elements and the comfort and safety of people in public spaces and building interiors.

"The HBIM-SIG platform makes it possible to plan and manage public use for the development of tourism management tools that help estimate visitor carrying capacity, both inside buildings and adjacent streets," emphasises Concepción López González.

The historic centre of Valencia, test site

As a testing ground, the UPV team has been working in the historic centre of Valencia. For the first time, it has obtained accurate estimates of pedestrian traffic in public spaces in the area. Specifically, the project has focused on three of the most unique religious buildings in the city: the Cathedral, the Church of San Juan del Hospital and the Royal Seminary of Corpus Christi (Patriarca) and their urban surroundings.

In terms of numbers, for example, on a particular day, such as 19 March, the sensors recorded 215,289 people passing through Miguelete Street during the day, a volume that far exceeded what the research team had established in their studies of visitor capacity.

The study also detected high levels of CO2 in the three religious buildings when many visitors or parishioners were registered. Since January 2024, Valencia Cathedral has received more than 2,600 visitors on some days.

"All this points to the emerging need to identify preventive measures for the conservation of architectural and artistic elements and ensure the physical comfort and safety of people, as well as a quality visit and greater social sustainability for historic districts," says Mª José Viñals.

The UPV team is currently working on implementing early warning systems for crowd saturation and limiting temperature, humidity and CO2 levels that could affect heritage elements.

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