Curious reactions (or not) to the article on the UNWTO and the resignation of Riyadh


UNWTO may look moribund, but it is not dead. And the best of all: there are many people committed to the organization, with what it represents and could become, more than with the people who occasionally pass through the seat of the secretary general. If we can draw a conclusion from the reactions that have occurred this week, it is this: UNWTO is worth it, perhaps not as we know it now, but as what it can and should become.

The emails we have received are a puzzle of what we could call “the Pololikashvili style“to direct this” noble institution “, as one of the senders says.

Former workers of the organization, some of them already retired, have written to us to tell us about their work, changes that the current secretary general has made, doubts they have about how the organization is being managed and what it represents as part of history of world tourism since 1975

Some of those who have written to us were complaining about something, for example: the current secretary general decided prevent former workers from entering the building who sometimes passed by to greet their former colleagues. You only enter with a specific permission.

Specifically, they tell us like this:

To tell you the truth, I have not returned to the UNWTO General Secretariat since the beginning of 2017 to go and greet some former colleagues who are friends of mine. In fact, as of January 2018, no former retired staff member can enter the headquarters building without prior authorization from the Directorate, which has never happened before. In addition, the other organizations of the United Nations System grant a special card to all former retired officials to facilitate access to their respective offices.“.

Two of the senders wonder what happened to the “UNWTO documentary heritage and technical information” fund, which apparently conserved a complete archive on tourism legislation worldwide, in addition to its own historical archive.

One of them is concerned that the general secretary Eliminate the so-called Resilience Committee, or World Crisis Committee, convened in March 2020 in the wake of the pandemic, with key United Nations agencies, the Presidents of the Executive Council and Regional Commissions and private sector leaders, and that no longer appears in the list of committees of the organization. On the UNWTO website, the last recorded meeting of this advisory body was in January 2021.

One of the senders clarifies the question of the UNWTO regional offices, in relation to the opening, before the summer, of the Middle East regional headquarters in Riyadh.

Regional offices

This documented sender explains that “The creation of regional offices is not a new concept in the context of the Organization, as it has existed in the past. Indeed, the UNWTO had created (2nd General Assembly Torremolinos-Málaga, May 1977) the following three Regional Secretariats : Africa (Nigeria), Americas (Peru) and the Middle East (Egypt). The following year two other Regional Secretariats were opened: East Asia and Pacific (Philippines) and South Asia (Sri Lanka) “.

Add that “A Regional Secretariat for Europe was not created, as the Headquarters was located in Europe”

However, a few years later it was decided to close the secretariats and regional offices. Our sender explains it like this: “Due to the difficulty of coordinating the activities of these Regional Secretariats from the General Secretariat in Madrid and the significant management expenses generated by said Secretariats, the 4th UNWTO General Assembly (Rome, September 1981) decided to close them and asked the Secretary General – then Robert C. Lonati- that six Regional Departments will be created -including one for Europe-, in the General Secretariat of the Organization “. In other words, at the Madrid headquarters.

Therefore, it is true that at the moment, the Riyadh office opened in May is a notable exception within the organization, which does not even give Egypt the role it had in 1977 again, but directly chooses the capital of Saudi Arabia, a newcomer to tourism.

But not all reactions have been favorable to the article Riyadh resigns, forced by the UN, to take away the UNWTO headquarters from Madrid.

The UNWTO headquarters in Riyadh, the only regional headquarters that exists.

“Inaccuracies, incorrect information and unfounded assessments”

The only reaction from the organization itself – and the only negative – has been from the Director of the Regional Department for Europe, Alessandra Priante.

Mrs. Priante claims to be “frankly surprised by the amount of inaccuracies, incorrect information and unfounded assessments that you give” and kindly offers to correct those mistakes. Add, “Bear in mind that by doing such an inaccurate press service you are harming not only the people who work honestly at UNWTO, including the Secretary General, but also the purpose of our work, our member states and the world of tourism in general “.

And concludes: “By reducing us to a hair salon argument, you are also not doing your country and your government a favor, which has gone to great lengths to support us lately.”

Ms Priante has been kind enough to correct some incorrect data in the article, which she calls “falsehoods”. For example, that Cyprus is in the UNWTO and that Lithuania is also, contrary to what the article said, because who is not is Latvia.

On the other hand, Mrs. Priante has also been so kind to commit to trying to get the secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, to answer the questions on the table, on behalf of HOSTELTUR, since the beginning of September.

The questions are these:

  • – What is real in the much discussed possibility that the UNWTO will change its headquarters from Madrid to Riyadh?
  • – Is it true that the Secretary General is in favor of this change?
  • – If yes, or that it would not look bad, for what reasons?
  • – What does it depend on whether or not the change of venue appears on the agenda? Do you have a chance to enter this point?
  • – How are the relations between the UNWTO and the Government of Spain? Is there discontent? Why?
  • – Does the Secretary General have a special relationship with the Government of Riyadh and certain commitments acquired with Saudi Arabia?
  • – What contacts has the Secretary General been making regarding the change of venue and the interests of Riyadh?

It is appreciated that someone from within the organization takes care to avoid the frustration of not having answers, neither in writing nor in person, since the secretary general avoided appearing at the press conference together with Minister Reyes Maroto and Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares after the visit that the three made to the future headquarters of the UNWTO in Madrid, the Palacio de Congresos de La Castellana, as we explained in Pololikashvili does not cut the rumors about the change of headquarters of the UNWTO.

The future of Pololikashvili

On the one hand, it seems that Saudi Arabia considers the current secretary general “amortized”, according to HOSTELTUR sources. For the Arabs, the ideal replacement for the Georgian could be Gloria Guevara “, former CEO and president of the WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) alliance, currently a special teacher from the Minister of Tourism of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Al Khateeb.

The Spanish Government has dismantled the operation to transfer headquarters to Riyadh discreetly, without public disgrace to Pololikashvili, but touching the Secretary General of the United Nations himself, Antonio Gutérres, and according to the Anglo-Saxon tourist medium eTurboNewsAlso to Prince Mohamed bin Salman Al Saud himself, with whom President Pedro Sánchez would have spoken.

In an article entitled “Transfer of the UNWTO to Saudi Arabia: Does Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili have a big problem?”, This medium assures that the story has not ended although the transfer of the headquarters has been “on hold”

And he adds: “The years of voter manipulation by the UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili, were never addressed and are still ignored in New York”, referring to the UN headquarters, and highlights that now the secretary United Nations General “He is already getting involved after being alerted by the Spanish Government“.

It remains to be seen now, how this medium collects and as the HOSTELTUR sources said in the reference article, if Spain will decide to withdraw its support for the Secretary General.

According to our sources, Spain “could allege the major irregularities in appointment of the Secretary General by the Executive Committee, as a candidate for reelection “.

Based on this, he could request that the process be restarted and at least three new candidates be sought, including the Georgian

For this Spain you should present your arguments very well – “there are, and many”, say the sources, as a member of the UNWTO and as the host country of the agency, and make the Foreign Ministry “move well to get the votes.”

The international specialized media are beginning to bring to light the “great irregularities” of the appointment of Pololikashvili, last January, as secretary general, by the Executive Committee of the organization. Says eTurboNews: “With Spain’s help, support for an obviously illegitimate general secretary could come to an end“.

The reelection of the Georgian must be confirmed at the UNWTO General Assembly that will take place in Morocco in December.

The Foreign Minister and the Secretary General, during the visit to the La Castellana Conference Center.

Spain, discreet but effective

Spain has quietly but effectively aborted the Riyadh operation. It remains to be seen whether there will be other movements for withdraw support for the current secretary general, who has been supported in the past.

Any replacement option, as our sources explain, goes through diplomacy: Foreign should move to get votes for another candidate, perhaps Spanish

The sources are clear: “if Spain were France, one of the three new candidates would be a very high-level Spaniard. A Javier Solana or a Josep Piqué a little younger “, because, they add,” we have already seen with Pololikashvili that it is not necessary to know tourism “.

In an article titled Casandra’s followers do not know how to predict the future and published in HOSTELTUR, Ignacio Vasallo, first general manager of Turespaña, recalls that in August some representatives of the sector agreed that the possible transfer of the headquarters to Riyadh would be “an unmitigated diplomatic, political and economic failure that would seriously damage the image of Spain, which would also lose the world capital of tourism and its ability to influence the sector “.

Vasallo warns that the doomsayers of the “unmitigated tragedy” that, according to them, the loss of the UNWTO headquarters would have meant for Spain, have prevented a “equally unmitigated congratulations“to the Spanish Government for the success of its management.

Lessons for the future

The things we do in life are meaningless if they do not help us to learn. I have learned, with this story that we have told you from HOSTELTUR, that UNWTO has enemies but it also has friends, people who respect and even revere the organization, who think that it is worth saving and reinventing it, so that it can be what it should be for the benefit of world tourism.

And I honestly think it’s worth it. It is not just another body, it is a United Nations agency that can play a decisive role in the tourism industry, that can help it, guide it, inform it, offer it data for decision-making, show it different options, help it plan …

People pass but organizations remain, and it pays to work for an organization that must be beyond personal and national interests, and that will still be here when neither of us are. For this reason, as I tried to explain to Mrs. Priante, at HOSTELTUR we declare ourselves loyal to the institution and we will work to reflect, with the representatives of the sector who have something to say, what the future of the UNWTO may be, how we could reinvent it to better serve your purpose.

And it is very remarkable that the people who have sent us emails explaining different aspects of the organization, all agree that they are interested in their future, that there are relevant things worth talking about and that they have hope in that future.

Here we launch some ideas, which are not our own, but from our sources.

The current UNWTO headquarters, on Calle Poeta Joan Maragall in Madrid.

The new UNWTO

Spain should play an active role in this reinvention or refounding.

It could achieve the reform of tourism statisticsTo force the UNWTO to change the official statistical criteria to go from people to overnight stays, for example, which is a much more appropriate indicator.

Could force UNWTO to measure international tourist flows accurately. “Today many destinations ‘lie’ in the numbers of visitors they send to the UNWTO and some do so by close to 50%, for various reasons”.

All of this makes world tourism reports too lax, making it difficult for the industry to understand trends and make decisions. In fact, the entire global industry that uses these statistics and makes decisions based on them is working on unreliable and outdated data.

The UNWTO should stop focusing on issues such as poverty, the millennium goals, sustainability, etc., the sources consulted assure, “that being important they already have specialized agencies in this regard” and avoid duplications that do not make sense or help the world tourism.

In fact, some sources suggest that it would be important include the transport sector in the UNWTO, which is currently so inextricably linked to the global tourism industry, and add a T to its name: OMTT, World Tourism and Transport Organization, thus expanding its powers.

What should be the role of the “new” UNWTO is clear to the sources consulted: should focus on managing, at the global level, practical, concrete and important issues that would help to develop better tourism for all in the world.

Some examples: high-quality training in tourism, tourist accommodation classification systems, immigration procedures at borders, R&D in tourism, tourism management of pandemics, prosecution of internet fraud on offer tourism, the management of “overtourism”, and so on. “Although perhaps this would mean removing the UNWTO from the orbit of the United Nations.”

Be that as it may, the debate will undoubtedly be enriching.