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Why is Spain stalling a Big Opportunity for World Tourism?

UNWTO Saudi Arabia

World Tourism is getting ready for a great future with COVID getting under control.

This is the response by many in the global travel and tourism industry.

To make World Tourism work again it takes leaders and people with a vision. It also takes people willing and able to act.

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According to a member of the World Tourism Network, a Big Moment for World Tourism is in the making in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Tourism has been going through almost impossible challenges since the beginning of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Saudi Arabia, Minister of Tourism H.E. Ahmed Al-Khateeb  has been showing face not only in his own country. He has been the shining star of hope from the Caribbean to Africa.

The Kingdom allocated billions of dollars not only for the development of its own progressing tourism potential but also to help the rest of the world to keep the sector floating.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is going through a leadership crisis with its Secretary-General playing a double game.

Saudi Arabia was there to assist diplomatically and with money. In May this year, UNWTO opened a regional center in Riyadh. Also WTTC, the UK based organization representing many of the largest private stakeholders in the global travel and tourism industry opened a regional center in Riyadh.

Realizing the difficult situation UNWTO was in with insufficient support from Spain a reality, Saudi Arabia indicated its interest in bringing this world body from Madrid to Riyadh.

Such a move of course would require an endorsement by UNWTO members at the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly in Morocco. Experts close to the issue predicted the votes necessary for such a move were already almost secured, even though the Kingdom never officially requested it.

Rumors of such a move made Spain and some EU allies more than curious. Diplomatic moves behind the scene were in full swing, according to reliable eTurboNews sources.

A UNWTO delegate from an EU country heavily relying on tourism told eTurboNews, he/she had the authority to vote as he/she likes, and she would vote for a move if on the ballot.

The Spanish Prime Minister called the Saudi Prince about a month ago. It was alleged the reason for the call was the ambition by Riyadh on a possible move of the UNWTO headquarter.

Two weeks ago the UN Secretary-General António Guterres got involved, and the project was put on hold depending on an agreement to be finalized between the Saudi Minister of Tourism with his counterpart, the Spanish Ministers of Tourism.

Someone familiar with this discussion between Saudi Arabia and Spain told eTurboNews: “Discussions between Spain and Saudi Arabia are progressing but the Saudi side is frustrated at the speed of progress. FII the end of October will be a big moment for tourism, with many ministers and business leaders in Riyadh. Let’s hope Maroto is there.”

The Hon Reyes Maroto is the Minister of Tourism for Spain.

A well known and respected expert in Europe close to UNWTO, who did not want to be named told eTurboNews:

“If Spain thinks delay tactics mean that they are preventing Saudi Arabia from continuing to campaign to move the UNWTO to Riyadh, then they are most likely wrong. There is still time to push. Currently, Maroto is in Italy, at a trade event, and her focus is not tourism. “

Another source told eTurboNews: “It appears there is a commitment by Spain on key elements Saudi Arabia has asked for to prevent this move of Headquarter to be requested.”

However, it also appears the speed in finalizing this commitment may be the issue confusing the Saudis.

eTurboNews reached out to both the Spanish and the Saudi Minister of tourism. No further clarification was received.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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