Golden geese or white elephants? The paradoxes of world heritage sites and community-based tourism development in Agra, India

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Chakravarty, S. and C. Irazábal. “Golden Geese or White Elephants? The Paradoxes of World Heritage Sites and Community-Based Tourism Development in Agra, India.” In Phillips, R. and S. Roberts (ed). Tourism, Planning, and Community Development. New York: Routledge, 2013, 125-142.


This study examines the relationship between World Heritage Sites (WHSs) and local community development in Agra, India. We investigate two interrelated themes: the role of planning in developing the tourism potential of the Taj Mahal and other WHSs in Agra, and the impact of the WHS framework on the development of the city. We analyze the weaknesses of the institutions and agencies responsible for Agra’s inability to convert the development potential created by its three WHSs into significant economic, community and infrastructure improvements. The Agra case reveals a set of developmental paradoxes, whereby the restructuring of the tourist industry induced by the designation of WHSs does not lead to proportionate advances in local community development. Several factors were found to be systemic problems, but some recent schemes are worth supporting and expanding. The paradoxes and potential of economic, tourism, and community development in Agra echo those of other developing localities which host WHSs around the world. Following an assessment of problems and challenges, a set of recommendations is directed toward the development of pro-poor, community-based heritage tourism with the aim of informing integrated planning for the community and for heritage and tourism resources in the future.