Italy and the election of UNWTO Secretary General

Latin America
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Written by Galileo Violini

On January 19, 2021, the Executive Council of the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) should appoint the next UNWTO Secretary General, an appointment that will have to be ratified in October by the General Assembly of the member countries.

In Italy, this deadline has not aroused much interest as often happens with the events of the United Nations to whose system UNWTO belongs. This is an organization based in Spain of which Francesco Frangialli was Secretary General from 1997 to 2009.

This lack of interest may be surprising if we consider that the UNWTO’s field of competence is of primary importance for Italy. In 2019, it contributed 13% to GDP, employing 4.2 million people, and great prospects were expected for 2020 with a differentiation of the tourist targets and, ironically, also aiming to be 2020 the year of Italy-China culture with the forecast of an increase in relative flights.

The predictions did not come true and the sector was among the hardest hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 34 million decrease in foreign presences caused an estimated loss of 8000 million euros of which the percentage related to accommodation, restaurants, and services represents over 60%. The need to control the spread of the pandemic has penalized domestic tourism with not a few controversies.

The impact on employment has been dramatic. Between June 2019 and June 2020, it decreased by 3.6% (841,000 jobs) and for about a third, this decrease is attributable to the sector with a relative incidence of 13% in catering and almost 30% in housing.

The sector is, therefore, central to post-pandemic recovery, and the UNWTO will inevitably be an important player. If the predictions of many epidemiologists are true, the effects of the vaccine will be effective towards the end of 2021 and, therefore, the elected Secretary General will have the gigantic burden of directing the recovery.

In the best of all worlds, one would expect his or her selection to be made by choosing from a wide range of candidates. Surprisingly, this will not be the case. There are only two candidates: the current Secretary General, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili from Georgia, and the President of the Agency for Culture and Antiquities of Bahrain, HE Mai Al Khalifa.

This is not evidence of disinterest in the position. Six other people had expressed their intention to submit their candidacy but were unable to provide the required documentation in time given the short time between the opening and closing of applications.

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Galileo Violini

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