Professor Geoffrey Lipman co-founder SUNx, President International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) witnessed Friday’s election proceedings by the UNWTO Executive Council meeting in Madrid.
I was reminded of Mrs Thatcher’s quip ”It’s a funny old world” watching the final stages of the election for the UN World Tourism Organization’s – Secretary General. The decision last week, of 33 Members of the Executive Council had several twists and turns before Georgia’s Ambassador to the Madrid based body, Zurab Pololikashvili – emerged victorious from a very close run off with Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism Walter Mzembi.
It started with the Seychelles candidate – former Tourism Minister Alain St. Ange – being disavowed by his country, under extreme pressure for solidarity from the African Union. Passionate and articulate St. Ange laid out the realities of his situation with a skill that hung over the rest of the process. It elicited a massive applause from the assembled UNWTO members.
Then the main event started
Each of the 5 remaining candidates laid out a 4-year plan for governing the organization. It was rich with ideas and it showed the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing the organization in the coming years. Security with ease of travel: digital technology: cyber resilience, sustainable development and climate change emerged as top concerns. At the same time, there was a widespread call for reshaping of an organization that already punches above its weight, to provide adequate financing, people, and technology to allow it to fulfil its mission. The style of each candidate was shown in a ten-minute presentation, differentiating them by vision and by charisma.
On one thing there was complete unanimity – the new Secretary General will have a tough act to follow in Taleb Rifai – who in his 8 years at the helm has brought the organization and the sector to a new level of sector leadership and public recognition.
In retrospect, the election itself reflected this, it was well organized, professionally managed with a balance of openness and internal process. Now it will be up to Zurab to deliver on the promise. (I predict that he will be known by his first name – at least on the tourism circuit)
Finally, I was pleased to see that climate resilience was one of his talking points – because it will be on his watch that broader recognition of the existential nature of this challenge will escalate. Our sector will have to radically reposition to respond. SUNx will be a constant reminder.
Professor Geoffrey Lipman co-founder SUNx, President International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP).