There are some well-qualified insiders and total outsiders with little experience in tourism among the candidates for the new UNWTO Secretary-General. Whoever is nominated and elected later this year will need to work more closely with governments at the national and local level to show them why tourism matters.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), like its parent the United Nations, is mostly an advisory body rather than an enforcer of specific laws related to tourism.
But the UNWTO still exerts heavy influence on destination marketers and tourism organizations around the world and its Secretary-General dictates guidance for the future of global tourism in dozens of countries such as the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism For Development this year.
The UNWTO’s current Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai of Jordan, has served in the position since January 2010 and is stepping down at the end of this year. The organization’s 33-nation executive board will choose a nominee in May to be voted on by its General Assembly later this year to serve as Secretary-General for the 2018 to 2021 term.
Seven eligible applications were received and we provide each candidate’s career history below.
As part of the United Nations, the UNWTO supports many of the United Nation’s programs and is one of the largest global tourism organizations that advises member states on how to develop and implement tourism policies. The organization’s mission is to, “drive economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability and offer leadership and support to the sector in advancing knowledge and tourism policies worldwide,” according to its website.
UNWTO’s membership includes 157 countries, six associate members and 500 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities.
Among the challenges facing the next Secretary-General is growing UNWTO membership. The U.S. is notably not a member because of disagreements in policy and membership costs and 35 other countries such as the UK, Ireland, the U.A.E. and Sweden are also non-members.
Skift has interviewed Rifai twice in the past two years, most recently in July 2016 at UNWTO’s headquarters in Madrid. Rifai’s beliefs in travel as a human right and the strength of a country’s political will to welcome tourists stood out to us during our conversation last year and have in large part defined his tenure as Secretary-General.
Rifai told us last July that despite security challenges facing many destinations he’s leaving office optimistic about the future of global tourism. “In a nutshell, I’m not worried about the travel and tourism industry,” he said. “I’m concerned about the lives of people and security of people, of course. We need to be concerned about the security of travel. We have to put it at the heart of our objective. Security doesn’t mean we don’t travel. Do not travel or reduced travel is not an answer, it’s not an option.”
Rifai’s successor will inherit a growing travel industry part of a different world compared to when the industry had bottomed out at height of the global recession in 2009 and 2010 when Rifai took office. Albeit, the rise of populism in the U.S. and Europe, for example, is already projected to impact tourist arrivals in some destinations.
>>Márcio Favilla, Brazil: Favilla already holds a post at the UNWTO — Executive Director for Operational Programs and Institutional Relations since 2014 — and was previously UNWTO’s Executive Director for Competitiveness, External Relations and Partnerships from 2010 to 2013. He’s been involved with the UNWTO and other Brazilian and global tourism organizations for the past 20 years and was Head of the Brazilian delegation to all UNWTO General Assembly and Executive Council sessions from 2003 to 2006 and Chairman of the UNWTO Commission for the Americas in 2006. Favilla played a role in establishing Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism while he was Vice Minister of Tourism from 2003 to 2007. He also developed and implemented Brazil’s first national tourism plan. A Brazilian national, Favilla speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.
In addition to continuing work on the UNWTO’s current priorities such as sustainability, Favilla has said he wants to bring in more countries that aren’t members of the organization.
>>Vahan Martirosyan, Armenia: Martirosyan is one of the newest candidates to the travel industry. He was appointed as Armenia’s Minister of Transport and Communications in September 2016 and in October had a title change to Minister of Transport, Communication and Information Technologies. Martirosyan spent more than 30 years working in electrical engineering posts in Armenia, serving in various board positions of CJSC, one of the country’s largest electrical utility companies, for the past 16 years.
>>Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe: Mzembi is currently the Minister of Tourism for Zimbabwe, a position he’s held since 2009. He’s led efforts for long-term tourism plans for both Zimbabwe and the African Union, including Zimbabwe’s goal of attracting five million arrivals $5 billion in revenue by 2020. He is also the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa Chairperson.
>>Zurab Pololikashvili, Georgia: Pololikashvili is the Ambassador of Georgia to Spain and currently the permanent representative of Georgia to the UNWTO. He has said that one of his goals, if elected, is that the UNWTO become more approachable and helpful to smaller destinations rather than only country or regional destination marketing organizations.
>>Jaime Alberto Cabal Sanclemente, Colombia: Sanclemente is the Ambassador of Colombia to Austria. He also held ambassadorships to Korea, the Philippines and Mongolia from 2011 to 2014. He’s had various leadership positions in Colombian tourism organizations during the past 20 years and much of his career has focused on sustainability.
>>Alain St. Ange, Seychelles: St. Ange is a Seychelles politician who has been the country’s Minister of Tourism and Culture since 2012. He also served as Director of Marketing of Seychelles in 2009 and in 2010 was promoted to CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board. He has authored or co-authored nearly a dozen political history books about Seychelles and has worked in many hotels and restaurants in Seychelles, the Channel Islands and Australia.
>>Dho Young-shim, South Korea: Dho Young-shim currently serves as the Chairperson of the UNWTO’s Sustainable Tourism for Eliminating Poverty Foundation. From 1999 to 2003 she was Vice-Chair and Chair of Organizing Committee for Visit Korea Year and has spearheaded the Thank You Small Library project of the UNWTO ST-EP Foundation since 2007 which has established more than 80 libraries in developing countries.
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Photo credit: UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, pictured here at his office in Madrid, finishes his term at the end of this year when his successor will take the reigns. Rut Gomez Sobrino / UNWTO