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The UNWTO belongs to the Secretary-General: Lost in Translation?

UNWTO backs strong, united plan for global tourism
Written by Galileo Violini

Marrakesh, Madrid, or Nairobi – this is the question. “I’ll let you know as soon as there is white smoke,” was the feedback to eTurboNews by a spokesperson of a prominent minister involved in the discussion of the venue change for the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly.

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  • Three days ago, the Secretariat of United Nations World Tourism Organization announced the change of the venue of the forthcoming 24th Session of the General Assembly, due to take place in Marrakesh, November 30 – December 3, 2021
  • The Secretariat, after consulting the Chair of the Executive Council and the Government of Spain has informed the Member States that the new venue will be Madrid, on the same dates.
  • Najib Balala, Secretary of Tourism for Kenya yesterday invited UNWTO to hold its 2021 General Assembly in Kenya.

The next General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) may very well be the most important meeting this UN-affiliated agency ever had.

Marrakesh, Madrid or Nairobi, and when?

  1. Will the General Assembly still take place November 30 or at a later time ?
  2. Will the General Assembly take place in Morocco at a later time or on November 30 in Spain or Kenya?

The language used in the Moroccon letter to the UNWTO Secretariat dated October 15 was French. It appears portions of this letter may have been lost in translation.

A reading of this Morocco’s Government communication should question if its logical consequence was really a request for a simple change of venue from Marrakesh to Madrid?

Global means global, and the current global COVID-19 situation does not change if one looks at it from Morocco or from Spain’s point of view.

But there is a real subtle point that gives the impression that the Secretariat, for some reason easily imagined, or purposedly distorted the communication by the Moroccan Government.

If the specification of time or place or both had been placed in this communication the Moroccan Government requesting a change of venue would have been correct.

However, by itself, the letter sent by the Government of Morocco may have not meant to ask for a move of venue country, but a simple request to postpone the general assembly written in a polite French diplomatic term.

As a matter of fact, it is hard to believe that in the current global situation of the pandemic it would have made any difference if Madrid or Marrakesh from the point of safety and security.

Between October 18 and 22, Spain registered 13,346 new cases, i. e. a daily average of 57.13 per million, whereas in the same period, in Morocco the new cases have been 1,350, i. e. a daily average of 7.49 per million, which is eight times less.

The Comunidad de Madrid issues weekly reports on the pandemic. The last one refers to the week October 11-15 and registers a daily average of 44.4 new cases per million. That for the following week has not yet been published, but the global data in Spain have registered an increase of 13%.

In Morocco, local Marrakesh data are much lower, in the order of a few units per million.

In the eTurboNews article from yesterday, it was suggested that the change of venue is one more move by the current Secretary-General, whose election campaign has caused more than one eyebrows raised among people acquainted with UN ethics.

The General Assembly will be the place to seal the confirmation for the votes the UNWTO Executive Council gave to elect the current SG for a new 2 year period.

If the Member States are represented in the General Assembly by their ambassadors in Madrid or if there are many no-shows, the analysis of the eTurboNews article would be correct.

However, it is not necessarily so. In Spanish, an often used sentence is “Le salió el tiro por la culata” perhaps more expressive than the English translation “the shot backfired”.

Morocco has recently blocked incoming flights from several countries. This is not the case for Spain. Spain is one of the few European countries that allow entrance without quarantine for those that are fully vaccinated.

Whether this will catalyze a reaction by the countries that were excluded by the intense travel activity by the current Secretary-General during the year prior to the Executive Board election is unpredictable but possibly. It will be mostly influenced by the capacity of Arab, African, and small Latin American countries.

It may be interesting to analyze the procedure of a change of venue.

The first comment is about timing: In November 2020 World Bank IMF and the Government of Morocco decided to postpone the IMF Annual meeting for one year. It is now scheduled for October 2022 in Marrakesh.

At the time of change, the daily COVID cases in Morocco and Spain were ten times more than now. This did not cause any worry to UNWTO.

During that period the agenda of the Secretary-General was focused on something many people considered suspicious. The Executive Council met during a severe outbreak of COVID-19 and a weather disaster. Candidates ready to challenge Zurab had no time to submit paperwork correctly and were caught by surprise.

Delegates of the Executive council that cleared Zurab for a second term were some embassy representatives but hardly any true candidates (Ministers)

The second is a technical point.

The announcement of the UNWTO Secretariat states that the information of the new venue for the GA is “In line with the authority delegated under the Guidelines for the selection of venues for the General Assembly sessions adopted by the General Assembly through resolution 631 (XX)”.

If we refer to the text of the resolution 631(XX), available on the Web the hypothesis of such a delegation does not exist. Perhaps the Secretariat might have made reference to article 8.2 of the Statutes, even if superseded by item I.7.

The United Nations has to grow stronger, and better avenues for grievances should be established.

The criticisms of the WHO, the inability of WTO to respond to the request of India and South Africa that vaccine patents be liberalized during the pandemic, are objective threats.

Tourism is one of the main economic resources for many countries, in particular developing countries. Its UN Organization deserves management in which decision making is more understandable and abiding by the rules, not to say transparent.

In view of such considerations, it cannot be a surprise that the world welcomes and praise the immediate generous declaration by Kenya to host the General Assembly next month.

Kenya has one of the lowest COVID-19 incidence, 1.73 per million in the last eight days, and hosts two of the most important UN agencies, and, last, but not least, the principle of geographical rotation would be respected.

The World Tourism Organization does not belong to the Secretary-General. It’s not up to him to accept, reject or ignore such a request by Kenya

He must follow with the urgency the situation demands the procedure to which the Secretariat stated it adhered in its last week communication, that prescribed by the aforementioned resolution.

Therefore, I expect that immediately UNWTO informs Kenya what the conditions are to allow Nairobi to be the host of the next General Assembly.

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Galileo Violini

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