The Toughest Job in World Tourism: Gaining Members for WTTC

WTTC and UNWTO Unite to Drive Travel and Tourism
The MOU was signed by WTTC President & CEO Julia Simpson and UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili

Maribel Rodriguez has one of the most challenging jobs in the global travel and tourism industry as the SVP for Memberships & Commercial of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Ironically, she is also the only one of the three key leaders in WTTC with the experience needed to understand what the private sector is looking for. Implementing urgent changes within WTTC is not her assignment at this time. Could a shuffle of responsibilities change the standing of WTTC and renew its claim to be the legitimate representative for the private travel and tourism industry?

An organization loses its mandate when its leaders prioritize seeking glossy photo opportunities and self-promotion over genuinely benefiting its high-paying members.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is on the verge.
Member companies such as Roommate or Iberia already left.

Who are the key leaders in the World Travel and Tourism Council?

WTTC comprises a team of three dedicated female professionals, some of whom possess extensive expertise in leading the organization. Regrettably, the focus on capturing memorable photographs alongside influential political figures tends to overshadow the primary objective — to effectively represent and advocate for the world’s largest travel and tourism companies.

Who are the three key women running WTTC?

President and CEO Julia Simpson

New WTTC report provides investment recommendations for post-COVID Travel & Tourism
Julia Simpson, WTTC President & CEO

The president and CEO, Julia Simpson, spent 14 years as a board member for the UK national carrier British Airways. Before that, she was senior adviser to the UK Prime Minister. She held a number of key positions in the UK government and public sector, including Director at the Home Office and Department for Education and Employment, Assistant Chief Executive at the London Borough of Camden, and head of communications at the Communication Workers Union. Julia is still on the Board of the London Chamber of Commerce.

This is a great resume, but where is the experience leading a truly private travel and tourism company? UN Tourism is already taking care of the governments.

Virginia WTTC
The Toughest Job in World Tourism: Gaining Members for WTTC

Virginia Messina

Virginia Messina is a motivated lady in charge of communication and advocacy at WTTC. She has been seen replacing Julia Simpson at a number of key events, such as the just-concluded UN Sustainable Tourism Meeting in New York.

With over 15 years of experience in the public and private sectors, Virginia has spent the last decade advocating for Travel and tourism. She joined WTTC in 2013 and was responsible for driving the strategic plan. She served as Executive Director of the Global Travel Association Coalition, which aligned key industry organizations (ACI, CLIA, IATA, ICAO, UNWTO, and WEF) to speak with ‘One Voice’. 

Before joining WTTC, Virginia worked for the Mexican Government as the PA for the Secretary of Tourism in an administrative capacity. Aligning the public and private sectors in Mexico around ten vital strategic pillars made Mexico one of the most visited countries globally. 

In 2012, under Mexico’s G20 Presidency, she chaired the Tourism Working Group and coordinated the attendance of the G20 Tourism Ministers. This G20 event resulted in tourism being recognized as a key pillar for economic growth by the G20 Leaders. 

This is also great, but Julia and Virginia lack experience in an entirely operated private travel and tourism company unless you consider British Airways as a fully privately influenced company.

Why Advocacy Left WTTC?

Is this background information explaining why advocacy has almost vanished from the WTTC agenda, making members question why they want to be part of the council?

Has the disappearance of advocacy from the WTTC agenda caused members to question their desire to be part of the council?

Jeff Poole

It became clear when Jeff Poole, a former leader of IATA, the former WTTC SVP of Advocacy left, and Virginia Messina took his place; advocacy also disappeared from WTTC’s as a key activity.

Combining advocacy with communication is never a good idea. As some insiders have explained to eTurboNews, recruiting members for this organization is almost impossible.

WTTC has competition

UN Tourism is also lobbying for affiliated members and this is a lot cheaper.

There is ETOA, the European Tourism Association, the European Travel Commission, PATA in Bangkok, USTOA in the United States.

Certainly, many of those organizations have a lot more advocacy in place and seem to work with less glamor but more practical with a lower membership contribution and a focus on creating business for its members.

Policy Recommendations- no more

When eTurboNews asked when the last recommendation on policy presented by WTTC was, there was no answer.

WTTC had a standing as a top advocacy group, and it may not be too late to get on with it again. However, it may take some changes in their approach, structure, and leaders’ job positions.

Of course, there are many issues WTTC should get active in.

WTTC advocacy issues could include

  • Advocate for visa elimination.
  • Advocate for the removal of taxes.
  • Encourage countries to refund VAT to visitors.
  • Advocate for equality in travel regardless of race, country, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Agree on a global standard for everything from hotel star ratings to airline evaluation, and make awards more honest and not based on political favoritism.
  • Assist with tax discrepancies, making tour operations difficult, for example, in the EU and the UK.
  • Establish a consumer guarantee when doing business with WTTC members.
  • To benefit immigration for workers in the sector.
  • Emphasis on standards for safety and security.
  • Establish regional work groups and centers.
  • Focus on government relationships, especially in major tourism economies UN Tourism is not presented, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, among many others.
  • Assure that the interests of WTTC members are heard on all platforms and events, including the World Bank, European Union, US Travel, and others.
  • Speak out with one voice.

WTTC Directors

Of course, WTTC Directors, based worldwide, have expansive knowledge not only in their fields but also in Travel and tourism as a sector and work with knowledgeable teams to bring the mission to life.

WTTC should also become an urgent watchdog for UN Tourism.

WTTC is losing members, and UN Tourism doesn’t even have the key tourism-generating countries such as the US, UK, Canada, or Australia as members to run a United Nations agency for tourism.

There is massive frustration, such as travel advisories, where WTTC and UN Tourism could work together, with WTTC concentrating on the more important non-UN Tourism Members (USA, Canada, UK).

At the just-concluded UN event in New York, the minister of Tourism, The Hon. I. Chester Cooper, made this very clear in his response to the unjustifiable travel advisory against the Bahamas by the United States.

Unfortunately, the United Nations, which relies on UN Tourism, failed to push the US to attend this New York event.

Even France, Spain, Germany, and Japan did not show up, most likely fed up with the ongoing scandals around the UN Tourism Secretary-General.

It became clear that the self-interest of just one person and his ambition to be re-elected for a questionable third term as UN Tourism Secretary General may be the cause.

This became crystal when the Brazilian tourism minister Celso Sabino de Oliveira praised Zurab and urged others to follow his excitement to keep the two-time Georgian to be maintained as the head of UN Tourism. This was despite scandals and manipulations starting with the way he was elected in the first place in 2018. The Brazilian minister gave a reason for his endorsement: The new Center of Excellence in the Brazilian Amazon promised by the Secretary-General.

It’s understandable that some countries stay out of such a discussion, but WTTC may have to bring them into a different discussion.

Maribel Rodriguez

Maribel Rodriguez
The Toughest Job in World Tourism: Gaining Members for WTTC

Maribel Rodriguez is a strategic person who can work efficiently without having to promote herself.

She joined WTTC after she managed the launch and development of the commercial aviation low-cost model in Europe in pioneering companies like Virgin, Go-fly, EasyJet, and Ryanair. She worked at British Airways as Sales & Marketing Director for Spain, Portugal, and France. She also spent six years in the hospitality industry at Travelodge Hotels Spain as CCO and elected Board Member of the Corporate Association of Hotels in Madrid (AEHM) and Promotion Commission.

She has an executive MBA from ICADE Business School, a Degree in Industrial Psychology from the University of Salamanca, and a Senior Executive Program for Travel & Tourism from IESE & JSF.

“Cabinet Shuffle” in WTTC: What about Maribel?

Perhaps it is time to look at Maribel in a WTTC “cabinet shuffle”? She seems to be the only one of the three key leaders with experience in the private sector and the humbled attitude needed to run such an organization strategically and efficiently. New members will come automatically so that she could multiply her talent.

This Article is based on my Observation:

All of this is a personal observation by this author, who is also the Chairman of the World Tourism Network.

“I did not talk to any of the three women featured here, but as a veteran in this industry since 1977, it’s time for a less diplomatic approach to get WTTC back on track.”


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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