Is UNWTO suffering of an induced coma?

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UNWTO is experiencing a new type of leader and leadership.

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Today, eTurboNews received a Holiday Greeting card from the UNWTO. This was a welcoming message and unfortunately the only direct response from Marcelo Risi and the rest of the UNWTO communication team in 2018, except, of course, being on the mass distribution of press releases.

On January 1, 2018, a new UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvil, took the helm of the global UN affiliate organization in charge to lead the largest industry in the world – the travel and tourism industry. Zurab Pololikashvil was the former ambassador for Georgia in Spain.

Before Pololikashvil the former Secretary-General, Dr. Taleb Rifai, was known to be traveling the glove constantly. He was accessible, responsive, and he truly cared to build a global network based on trust and friendship. This trust and his support were essential for Pololikashvil to sit in his chair at UNWTO in Madrid now, and he really sat in this chair staying away from the public and the media.

Interview requests, journalist questions and any attempt to reach someone from the UNWTO communication team were met with silence from the minute the new SG took charge. Zurab Pololikashvil was absent at major events, including the World Travel Market in London. Consequently, no press-conference was held in London during WTM.

It appears the new Secretary General has been concentrating to interact with countries that will be a member of the Executive Council at a time of new election come up in 2021. Surh countries are Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cabo Verde, Egypt, Flanders, Greece, India, Iran, Lithuania, Namibia, Romania, Russia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

UNWTO is experiencing a new type of leader and leadership. Is this a good move?

eTN turned to readers to get input from member countries, affiliated members, and other tourism leaders about their take on the new UNWTO.

eTN received 89 responses:
4 gave the new leadership a thumbs up and a 4-5 star rating.
3 had a neutral approach with 3-star rating.
82 did not approve of the way the UNWTO is heading and gave a 1-2 star feedback.

Here are some of the responses received:

The former Minister of Tourism from Zambia, who co-hosted a very successful UNWTO General Assembly at Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe, Sylvia Masebo responded: UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai. UNWTO in 2018 could have done better. It’s however too early to judge the new leadership, but I  would advise the new leader to consult  Dr. Rifai so they could do better. It would help if organizers of past UNWTO  conferences are consulted on challenges and successes of hosting upcoming GA so that best practices are employed.

A documentary of past conferences should be developed and shared for reference purposes.

Thomas Mueller from Rainmakers in Namibia gave the new  UNWTO leadership a 5-star rating and said:

UNWTO is a better organization under the leadership of Amb. Zurab Pololikashvil. Tourism SDGs are really promoted and the Digital Transformation Initiative is a most important initiative. My advice: Get more traction and actually things done in actively working with technology partners in the regions.

From the UAE a stakeholder said: UNWTO is less open, less predictable and less engaged. New staff

have not engaged with membership as past ones used to. UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai.

From Moldova: Since we had the wine tourism conference in Moldova, the level of engagement with UNWTO has become very slim. We do not have the same sort of interaction with the leadership team as before. UNWTO seems distant. UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai.

From Spain: UNWTO appears to have lost stature. It is not prominent in the international tourism scene as it was once was. As Affiliate Members, we are not as pleased as we were. UNWTO seems to be competing in our space and trying to turn itself into a for-profit organization, openly following the money, acting like paid private consulting firms. UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai.

From the U.S. a reader said: Over 50 years of tourism research and education. Had been active in WTO and UNWTO since 1989. The present Secretary-General is a disaster.  UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai, and I hope for a change of leadership.

From Vancouver, Canada a travel agency owner and tourism consultant wrote: UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai. Saddened to see UNWTO not honor the commitment to co-sponsor the International Peace through Tourism Summit in Montreal. And not to attend WTM seems to show disinterest in the industry Pololikashvil is supposed to be leading. Disappointed overall. Honor the IIPT commitment.

A director of tourism policy advisor from Brussels, Belgium wants member states to become again the center of the organization and thinks UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai.

A leader in the hospitality sector in Madrid thinks UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai and thinks UNWTO is a complete disaster. It has no visibility, neither retains a good image and recommends to make big changes.

From Barcelona Spain a tourism veteran with 30 years in the sector said: The current SG has no managerial, leadership nor communications skills.

He has no experience in the tourism sector.

Looks like he doesn’t really care about tourism nor UNWTO, but rather has a personal political agenda. He thinks a new Secretary General for UNWTO with the right capabilities is a solution.

A journalist from Montenegro thinks UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai.

This was echoed by a person with a Costa Rica government email and IP in Costa Rica. This reader said: No leadership; no knowledge of main UNWTO matters; Zurab does not handle any UNWTO topic and does not permit any other to talk; Ministers do not want to attend events; internal persecution does not help. He or she suggested a resignation from Zurab to pursue his real ambition: to become President of Georgia; and putting someone else to recover from the “induced coma” UNWTO.

The only official government representative from Costa Rica, Mr. Hermes Navarro told WorldTourismWire after reading this statement: I am the only Costa Rica representative to UNWTO and did not respond with the mentioned quote. I will appreciate deleting such reference as it does not represent the point of view of my Government or mine.

A tourism professional from Tokyo, Japan writes: UNWTO is a better organization under the leadership of Amb. Zurab Pololikashvil. Programs related to digital transformation on tourism has been started under new administration. That is really important. He suggests Digital related programs should be enhanced in 2019 over just concept.

An independent journalist from Bangalore India thinks UNWTO was a better organization under the leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai. He thinks the elections for Secretary General were dodgy leaving a bad taste in the mouth. He feels a more democratic and transparent functioning.

Amal from Rabat, Morocco said: It’s too early to say. Dr. Taleb Rifai is a dearest friend of mine, and I did not have the chance to meet yet Amb. Zurab Pololikashvil.

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