2nd International Congress on World Civilizations and Historic Routes
Sofia, Bulgaria, 15-16 November 2018

Concept Note

2nd International Congress on World Civilizations

and Historic Routes

Sofia Hotel Balkan, Sofia, Bulgaria, 15-16 November 2018

Concept Note


Tourism has grown at an accelerated pace over the last decades to become one of the leading global socio-economic sectors. In 2017, over 1.3 billion international tourists travelled around the world and UNWTO forecasts that this growth will continue in the coming years. The desire to explore and experience destinations’ cultural heritage is a key driver behind this growth, and the development of cultural resources for tourism purposes has accordingly become an important tool for enhancing destination competitiveness and attractiveness.  Moreover, with tourism destinations increasingly looking to enhance cross-border cooperation as a means of diversifying their products and attracting new markets, historic routes, such as Silk Road, provide enormous untapped potential. Cultural heritage lies at the very heart of the collective memory and identity of the citizens of the world. Destinations that boast archaeological sites, ancient architecture, folklore traditions and arts and that find themselves along these ancient routes can assume the role of catalysts for exchange of experience between peoples and cultures through tourism development, and thereby promote sustainable growth, prosperity and peace in their own regions.  


Recognizing the importance of cultural heritage and tourism, the 2nd International Congress on World Civilizations and Historic Routes will address the possible ways in which world civilizations could be brought to life through tourism, in particular by making use of the networks developed along historic routes. The congress will explore how tourism along these routes can play a leading role in creating new socio-economic opportunities for development at local, regional and national level while safeguarding and promoting tangible and intangible ancient heritage.

UNWTO’s Western Silk Road will serve as a best-practice example. Launched in 2017 as a joint initiative between UNWTO and the European Union, the initiative focuses on the development and diversification of the Western link of the Silk Road, an area geographically defined to primarily include European Union Member States, but also partner countries located along the Mediterranean basin, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. With tangible and intangible Silk Road heritage as its unifying theme, the initiative rests on two strategic pillars: (i) a Western Silk Road research pillar, an integral component of which is the Western Silk Road Tourism Academic Network, and (ii) a Western Silk Road capacity building pillar led by the Western Silk Road Working Group. While the first pillar is responsible for developing joint tourism intelligence and a common methodological Western Silk Road approach enabling country-specific but comparable Western Silk Road tourism data, the second pillar is to ensure the long-term viability of the Western Silk Road initiative through sustainable transnational tourism cooperation. With two highly successful Western Silk Road workshops held in Greece (April 2017) and Bulgaria (June 2017), and the publication of the Western Silk Road Roadmap in February 2018 that highlighted the potential of untapped Silk Road heritage located throughout Europe, the initiative has reached a development stage that allows the project partners to pursue more ambitious objectives in the areas of product development and capacity building in addition to the previously primary focus on Western Silk Road awareness-raising. A specialized Western Silk Road session will serve to explore available synergies, while the European Year of Cultural Heritage and the EU-China Tourism Year will frame an overarching debate on cultural heritage, tourism and the huge opportunities contained therein.

The participants in the Congress will have the opportunity to build upon the great cultural wealth spanning along the ancient routes, learn from different experiences and generate synergies among themselves and between several networks developed alongside the ancient cultural routes. Jointly organized by the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Bulgaria and UNWTO, the Congress will bring together Ministers of Tourism and other public and private tourism stakeholders from around the world, as well as internationally recognized professionals within culture, cultural tourism, experts, and scientists linked to the tourism industry, including related to world civilizations.  


The Congress is aimed at all tourism and culture stakeholders and representatives from related sectors: Ministries of Tourism and Ministries of Culture, National Tourism Organizations (NTOs), Destinations Management Organizations (DMOs), cultural and heritage managers, tourism and culture associations, private sector, culture and conservation experts and practitioners, NGOs and media.  


The proceedings of the Conference will consist of a High Level Meeting and two interactive discussion panels.

  • High Level Meeting: Exploring the role of governments and regional policies in the development of historic routes
  • Session 1: Creating signature tourism experiences along historic routes
  • Session 2: The challenges and opportunities of developing transnational tourism routes: the Silk Road as a case study.

The panel discussions will highlight the rapidly growing cultural route tourism exploring the impact of cultural tourism development and sustainability. It will identify the specific opportunities and challenges it poses across world civilizations and cultural routes, how these are being addressed, and the way forward.

The Congress will be developed against the background of the following key crosscutting issues: Governance models (Stakeholder participation), Community engagement and sustainable development, Capacity-building, Quality visitor experience, Innovation and technology, Corporate social responsibility and ethics of sustainable tourism, Public awareness, interpretation and visitor role in promoting and protecting cultural values and heritage.


2nd International Congress on World Civilizations

and Historic Routes


Sofia Hotel Balkan, Bulgaria, 15-16 November 2018



Wednesday, 14 November


08:30 - 19:00               Hotel check-in and badge collection at the Sofia Hotel Balkan

19:00 - 22:00               Opening dinner in Sofia Hotel Balkan, Restaurant Stardust (Upon invitation only)


Thursday, 15 November


08:00 - 09:00               Registration and Welcome Coffee

09:00 - 09:45                Opening Ceremony

  • Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria (TBC)
  • Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO
  • Nikolina Angelkova, Minister of Tourism, Bulgaria
  • Yordanka Fandakova, Mayor of Sofia, Bulgaria (TBC)
  • Vezhdi Rashidov, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture and the Media, National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria
  • Petar Kanev, Chairperson of the Committee on Economic Policy and Tourism, National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria


09:45 - 10:00               Group photo


10:00 - 12:00               High Level Meeting: Exploring the role of governments and regional policies in the development of historic routes


Governments play an important role in the enhancement of cultural heritage and in particular in the development of historic routes, which often require a strong political will and effective transnational cooperation if spread over different regions. This Panel will bring together High level representatives to discuss ways to fully harness the potential that cultural heritage offer for the development of tourism, while ensuring it contributes to the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs´).


Moderator:  Ms. Sofia Mavratzas, Editor-In-Chief, CNN Greece




Participants of the High-Level Panel:


  • Nikolina Angelkova, Minister of Tourism, Bulgaria
  • Ali Asghar Munesan, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, Iran
  • Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism, Kingdom of Cambodia
  • Ambassador Michael Christides, Secretary General, Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)
  • Omer Arısoy, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Turkey
  • Sayeda Mojgan Mostafavi, Deputy Minister of Administration, Finance and Tourism Affairs, Afghanistan
  • George Tziallas, Secretary General for Tourism Policy and Development, Ministry of Tourism, Greece
  • Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras-Al-Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, United Arab Emirates


12:00 - 14:00       Lunch in Sofia Hotel Balkan


14:00– 15:00        Opening of the Tourism Exhibition, located in the Communicative Complex “Serdica”, area Largo: cultural programme and presentation of Bulgarian customs, traditions and crafts (The exhibition will be open until 18:00).


15:00 - 17:00       Session 1: Creating Signature Cultural Tourism Experiences along the Historic Routes and World Civilizations


Iconic historic routes have inspired the travels and discovery of new territories of countless generations. Praised through literature, arts, and cinema, they have contributed to reveal the unique history, culture and natural assets of territories along them, becoming powerful promotional tools. This panel session will gather some of the most famous routes of all to see what it is that makes them so special. Panellists will discuss ways to effectively develop a tourism product around them, with a particular focus on the enhancement of the visitor´s experience and safeguarding the identity and authenticity of the destination.


Moderator: Mr. John Bell, Travel Journalist and Writer




  • Via Rhodopica and the Development of the Cultural-historical Tourism in Bulgaria, Prof. PhD. Nikolay Ovcharov, Advisor to the Minister of Culture of Republic of Bulgaria, National Historical Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • The Phoenicians´route, Dr. Antonio Barone, Director of the Pheonician route, Italy
  • James´ Route, Ms. María Nava Castro Domínguez, Director of Tourism, Xunta de Galicia, Spain
  • Route 66, Mr. Aaron Mahr, Superintendent, National Trails Intermountain Region, US National Park Services, U.S.A.


10:00 - 18:00         All-day tourist exhibition in the cultural and communicative complex "Serdica" (Largo area), where Bulgarian municipalities and tourist companies will present their unique cultural and tourist products.


20:00 - 22:00          Gala Dinner in the Central Military Club (Upon invitation only)


Friday, 16 November


08:45 – 09:30       Welcome Coffee


09:30 – 09:50       Presentation: “Successful promotion and branding of a historic route”

Promotion plays a major role in correctly enhancing the value of a historic route. This presentation will introduce key aspects related to the successful branding and promotion of a historic route, shedding the light on the effective use of new technologies and ways to engage with new audiences.

  • Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director - Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO)


09:50 – 10:30       Keynote: “A traveller´s story: I´ve travelled the route”

Mr. Kai Markus Xiong will be sharing his inspiring trip along the historic Silk Road routes, and reflect on the many adventures, encounters, and challenges he met along the way.

  • Kai Markus, Extreme Athlete and Activist. Founder of the “Run My Silk Road” initiative


10:30 – 11:00       Coffee break


11:00 – 13:00       Session 2: The challenges and opportunities of developing transnational tourism routes: the Silk Road as a case study.


As part of UNWTO’s Silk Road initiative, Silk Road Member States, regional and local tourism authorities, academic partners and private sector tourism stakeholders have acquired an understanding of the value of transnational collaboration and are willing to share a common development plan for the historic routes. However, how to practically materialize the step from awareness-raising to transnational product development and tourism management? By bringing together representatives from different fields – academia, civil society, tourism consultancy and training, and governance – this session will explore the opportunities and challenges of making historic routes such as the Silk Road a tangible travel reality.


Moderator: Mr. Patrick Fritz, Technical Coordinator, Technical Cooperation and Silk Road Department, UNWTO




  • Barnaby Davies, Co-founder, Eastguides West
  • Stella Kostopoulou, Associate Professor of Regional and Tourism Development at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), Department of Economics, and Head of the “European Interdisciplinary Silk Road Tourism Centre”, AUTh)
  • Local representative (TBC)


10:00 - 18:00        All-day farmers’s market: in the cultural and communicative complex "Serdica" (Largo area), where local farmers will present their own production.


13:00 – 13:30       Closing Session and Conclusions

13:30 – 15:00       Lunch in Sofia Hotel Balkan

15:00 – 18:00       Complimentary half-day technical tour of the city centre of Sofia


20:00 – 22:00       Dinner in a Traditional Bulgarian Restaurant (Restaurant Vodenitzata) (Upon invitation only)


Saturday, 17 November


09:00 – 17:30                       All-day technical tour to Plovdiv/ lunch included (Prior registration required)

Registration Form