Tourismleadership: UNWTO Executive Council should correct mistake

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Tourism is directly related to international security, communication, and interaction between people. Tourism must have a seat at the global table, and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the platform for that within the United Nations. How can the leader of this UNWTO platform be elected by a group of country representatives that care more about getting tickets for a popular football game, are following the orders of their foreign minister, and perhaps therefore are not interested in a discussion and exchange, before voting someone into the highest UN official in the travel and tourism industry?

This is exactly what happened in Madrid during the last UNWTO Executive Council meeting, and it seems only one man is trying to correct it. This man is Dr. Walter Mzembi, the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality from what some say is the most politically-disliked countries – Zimbabwe.

What we should learn here is that it’s not about the country this man represents, it’s about the issue that has merit.

eTurboNews reported in detail about the football game delegates were invited to by the Georgian candidate. eTN conducted a survey that overwhelmingly confirmed attending this football game as a voting delegate and accepting the invitation by a delegate seeking your vote, is a clear case of bribery.

All executive member countries – Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Tunisia, and Zambia – were very much aware of controversial issues leading to the vote for a new UNWTO nominee.

During the restricted meeting established by rule so voting members of the Executive Council could discuss qualifications and the presentation of competing candidates the French delegate apparently said: “We heard enough, let’s move to vote.”  He wanted to skip a discussion on the presentation and qualification by candidates that competed for the UNWTO Secretary General post. Information received by eTN confirmed there was no formal motion and there was no second motion. Instead, there was silence by Executive Council delegates when the French candidate suggested voting without discussion because it was late. If this was true, it would have been simply disrespectful to not have a debate, especially after all the months of hard work these candidates put into the election. It was also clearly not following a proper protocol that a motion was not made and seconded to vote on whether the debate should be skipped in the first place.

The world needs leaders. Tourism ministers, especially those elected to sit on the UNWTO Executive Council, have a responsibility not only to their own country but to the global world of travel and tourism. To make matters worse, the same delegates at an earlier Executive Council meeting in Luxor, Egypt, voted to ban all recordings during the debate, so there would be no official record that this discussion ever took place. Maybe a good legal argument to investigate if such a rule of interpretation is actually allowed at a UN agency is in order.

To summarize, the nominee from Georgia, Zurab Pololikashvili, Ambassador of Georgia to the Kingdom of Spain, was elected without discussion of his presentation, and his qualifications were not questioned. The same nominee was allowed to invite Executive Council officials to a football game before the election meeting, and his embassy circulated tickets to this potential target audience for the nominee.

During the election process, there was no recording of the debate – a debate that in reality never took place, but the elected nominee attended and possibly influenced this restricted meeting via SKYPE from the hotel lobby of the Casa, which is clearly against the rules and possibly influenced the decision to not have a debate.

The world is going into unchartered times, and tourism needs leaders. The delegates of the Executive Council made a mistake to vote without debate and most of them didn’t know they were being watched on SKYPE  by the Secretary General nominee.

UNWTO Secretary General candidates – Mr. Márcio Favilla of Brazil, Mr. Jaime Alberto Cabal Sanclemente of Colombia, Mrs. Young-shim Dho of the Republic of Korea, – must do the right thing and stand behind Walter Mzembi’s effort to not confirm Zurab in China.   It’s not too late for the members of the Executive Council to quietly admit a mistake and urge their countries not to vote for Zurab.

This takes leadership, and it takes guts, and it would demonstrate to the world that the delegates are united in wanting to correct this error. It would bring this issue back to the Executive Council who would then have the chance to confirm or correct their original vote.

There is no shame in doing this, but it would be shameful and a disgrace for world tourism if the confirmation of the current nominee took place in Chengdu as if it was business as usual, no questions asked.

The expected pretense of the Georgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, should not influence world tourism leaders to not care about correcting a mistake.Kvirkashvili is scheduled to attend the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu China in September.

World peace is at stake, and tourism is a peace industry. Tourism must have its foundation on solid footing. Under the leadership of a duly elected new Secretary General the need to change the process and rules in UNWTO to avoid such an incident in the future is necessary.

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Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.