The Colombian Ambassador to Austria, Hon. Jaime Alberto Cabal, is the latest candidate for the post of Secretary General of UNWTO. This is an up-front copy of an interview conducted by eTN Publisher Juergen Steinmetz.
Steinmetz: You entered the race late. Was there a reason to hold off? What triggered your decision to enter the already extensive search for a new UNWTO Secretary General?
Cabal: The process of defining a candidacy has not only to do with personal interests but also with a country’s decision. In the case of Colombia, both the President of the Republic as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs wanted to make a decision based on the possibility of being elected and on the professional competence required for my candidacy. I think those who presented their candidacy first may have certain advantage but to come first not always means to serve first. I think the program, the proposals, and the candidate’s profile play an important role.
Steinmetz: What makes you different from other candidates?
Cabal: Without any doubt, I very much respect and value the career of both Brazil’s candidate as well as the candidate who runs for the post of Ad Hoc Secretary in cooperation with the Korean candidate but in my view, the difference lies in the fact that these candidacies are of continuity. Traditionally, in the UNWTO the second ones always aspire or are elected as Secretary General and the proposal that we are making focuses on a renovation. In this case, we wish to have a Latin American candidate who inspires this process we are proposing to UNWTO.
Steinmetz: What would you do to get lost or non-members into the UNWTO. For example the United States or UK?
Cabal: One of the main proposals is to seek an increase of both Member States and Affiliate Members; Member States that have not been participating or States that have been members of the Organization but left. If we analyze the Member States that today are part of the Organization, 156 countries, we observe that there is a much smaller number of members compared to the number of other United Nations Organizations operating in Geneva, New York or Vienna. In this Organization we miss around 50 countries that could be a member of the UNWTO. It is crucial that countries like the UK, the US or the Nordic countries and others can become part of the Organization. Therefore, in my opinion, there has to be a greater offer of more tangible and concrete benefits for Member States and a strategy with a great deal of diplomacy to attract or to invite these countries to become part of the Organization. Without any doubt, this would be one of the main projects I wish to implement.
Steinmetz: WTTC and UNWTO had been working like siamese twins. WTTC and UNWTO had been working like siamese twins. However WTTC only represents 100 companies. Of course PATA and ETOA also played a role within UNWTO activities. How would you include other stakeholders of the private sector more prominently?
Cabal: One of the great advantages of the UNWTO within the United Nations system is that it is the only organization which includes the private sector as one of its members through the category of Affiliate Members. The Organization should make better use of this condition. In the same way as the Organization works closely with its Member States, it should also work closely with the private sector seeking to benefit from its strength, expertise and knowledge in the tourism sector. In this respect, I intend to accord greater importance to the inclusion of new Affiliate Members and a leading role to those who are already part of the Organization. I also appreciate the role and purpose of the WTTC as well as the importance of ETOA and PATA. Part of the Secretary General’s work is to maintain a balance regarding the importance and the role of these organizations and other Affiliate Members. This healthy balance also should be reflected at the level of the Organization’s governance. Without losing control of governance to Member States as an intergovernmental organization, Affiliate Members should be provided with some possibility to take part in the great decisions of the Organization
Steinmetz: How would you the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) in the mix. I have to ask you this, since I am the chairman of this organization.
Cabal: The cooperation with ICTP is as important as the cooperation with other members of the Organization. I consider that ICTP’s role is crucial within the proposals that I present as, for example, the strengthening of quality with regard to the destinations and private service providers, which are the stakeholders. Everything related to sustainable and environmental tourism and the fundamental elements for its development like education or marketing is of utmost importance. Therefore I see ICTP playing an important role during my administration if I am appointed Secretary General.
Steinmetz: What is your feedback on STEP, an initiative led by your opponend Ambassador Dho?
Cabal: All initiatives which contribute to the strengthening of sustainable tourism, which have an impact on education and training and which make a contribution to marginalized communities and the reduction of poverty are always welcomed. This program and this foundation supported by the UNWTO should be strengthened in the future and the UNWTO should evaluate the criteria of programmatic extensions to be incorporated later on.
Steinmetz: As a Colombian, what is your global view on the tourism?
Cabal: Colombia today presents itself and is recognized by international agencies as one of the countries with the greatest potential regarding the present and future tourism. The variety of touristic products and expertise that Colombia has to offer like sun and beach, cultural and historic tourism, festivities, cities, adventure and rural tourism can be an asset to the world tourism. The new perspective presented by the peace process is something that could be applied to many countries in conflict. I think that this response of Colombia to present this candidacy reflects the momentum Colombia is experiencing in its economy, its social and sustainable development due to the new perspective of peace.
Steinmetz: How would you increase the importance of tourism within the UN system, including budget challenges, office representation, etc?
Cabal: The global tourism is today an increasing but also changing tourism. The changes can be found within new forms of tourism, new demands of tourists and new technologies. The countries are more aware of the social and economic impact of tourism and therefore it is crucial for the UNWTO to be a dynamic and changing organization which constantly reinvents itself, which interprets the new realities of both global as well as regional and local tourism. This awareness, of course, should grow within the system of the United Nations and the budget increase is crucial in order to be able to develop new activities and programs. Therefore, I proposed a reduction of internal expenses and an increase of investment resources for programs and activities. This budgetary strengthening should be achieved through the increase of Member States as well as Affiliate Members and by seeking resources on an international level which can contribute to different funds facilitating investments in new programs.
Steinmetz: What is your feedback on today’s global security challenges?
Cabal: Terrorism and growing insecurity notably affect many countries, regions, and cities. This, of course, must be a major concern of the UNWTO and its leadership. As we said, the UNWTO should be a facilitator and an advisor to the Member States responding to their immediate needs. One question that should be answered by the UNWTO is, for example, how to help in times of crisis in an agile and immediate way to counter the effects of terrorism faced by some cities and regions. And this is where the countries need the Organization: to provide promotion programs as well as information and communication giving immediate responses to their realties and needs, to provide tourists with information where they can go etc. and, like this, counter the negative effect or image that a terrorist attack may have on country or city. The perception obviously no changes as quickly as reality does, and this change of realties should be accompanied by the UNWTO through its relation with its Member States. There should be a team which should provide immediate responses to countries in need of this support. That means that among the Organization’s priorities should exist a support program for countries that experience insecurity or terrorist attacks.
Steinmetz: What is your stand on open or closed borders, visas, electronic visas and some key countries shifting to a more closed society.
Cabal: As I already mentioned in some previous questions, the UNWTO should act as a facilitator and advisor and in this context, it should try to eliminate the existing barriers in order to increase the tourist flow and create new tourist destinations. Many times, these barriers exist due to border controls and visa obligations which impede this increase. Here, the UNWTO should act as a partner and support so that countries become aware of the possible positive impact of lifting visa requirements imposed to tourists in the world. At the same time, it should act as an advisor for tourists in order to facilitate traveling and provide information regarding barriers they may encounter. In other words, the UNWTO has to play an important role in this new development and the world integration so that tourists can travel more easily and benefit from new technologies to enter another country, which already exists in many airports through electronic visas.
Steinmetz: What do you stand on acceptance of minority groups, including the LGBT travel industry?
Cabal: I consider that the UNWTO should be a facilitator and an advisor to its Member States regarding public policies and it should take into account all different kinds of tourism, different products of tourism or changes that are taking place in different countries. In this regard, the LGBT tourism has gained great importance with a broad participation of products offered in different international fairs all over the world. I think that the UNWTO should have an inclusive approach towards this tourism modality while, at the same time, effectively countering and fighting those forms of tourism that violate human rights and attempt against good practices as it is the case of sexual exploitation, human trafficking and child labor, among others.