Tourism: As UNWTO Sec. Gen. Election Campaign Enters Its Final Stages, Africa Must Work As A Team

Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe Tourism Minister of Tourism and hospitality.

Come May 2017, a new Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation [UNWTO] will be elected by member nations.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization [UNWTO] is the specialised agency of the United Nations [UN] in the field of tourism and it generates market knowledge, promotes competitive and sustainable tourism policies and instruments, fosters tourism education and training, and works to make tourism an effective tool for development through technical assistance projects in over 100 countries around the world based in Madrid, Spain.

UNWTO’s membership includes 157 countries, 6 territories and over 500 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities. Its headquarters are located in Madrid.

Over the years, the UNWTO has struggles to speak for the entire world when it comes to travel and tourism issues.

Surprisingly non-members are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Comoros, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America.

As the race for the post of Secretary General of the UNWTO enters its final stages, and with seven aspiring candidates having announced their intention to run for the post, recent weeks have seen the emergence of some rather intriguing manoeuvres on the part of some of those candidates – all designed, presumably, to enhance their respective election chances.

Perhaps the most interesting development has been the emergence of an electoral coupling between late-entrant Mrs Doh Young-shim of South Korea and the current UNWTO Executive Director Carlos Voegler [of dual Spanish-Venezuelan nationality].

If Mrs Doh wins, she has apparently promised Voegler that she will revive the position of Deputy Secretary General – a function currently exercised, albeit nominally, by another Executive Director, Marcio Favilla of Brazil, who has also entered the race for the UNWTO’s top job.

In view of the aforementioned shenanigan, UNWTO insiders point out that Voegler – who turns 65 this year – is way past his sell-by date and is already living on borrowed time in the rarefied atmosphere which pervades the upper floors of the Organisation’s Madrid headquarters.

His electoral alliance with Doh represents something of a last-gasp attempt to hang-in there, boosting his pension and further extending what many believe is his already over-prolonged presence in those corridors.

Favilla – another internal candidate was promoted in May, 2016, by the incumbent Secretary General, Dr Taleb Rifai, to effectively deputise him and has made good use of his elevation to quietly lobby support for his bid for the Secretary General-ship, whilst leaving the formal declaration of his candidature until 19 January, 2017.

The evident conflict of interest and unfair advantage handed to Favilla have not gone down at all well within the corridors of the UNWTO itself or, of course, with the other aspiring candidates who sense a whiff of déjà-vu as the executive hierarchy manoeuvres to favour its own in the hope of pulling off yet another internal, incestuous succession.

As for Doh, a South Korean has been the Chairperson of the UNWTO- STEP organisation since 2002.

Based in Seoul, South Korea, STEP’s focus is the funding of tourism-based poverty alleviation projects in UNWTO member states: a sort of development arm of the mother organisation.

Interestingly, and just to add to those increasingly in-breeding undertones of the intensifying electoral race, the President of ST-EP is none other than Dr Francesco Frangelli – himself a former Secretary General of the UNWTO.

Naturally – and perhaps a little unwisely – he has thrown his weight behind Doh.

Whereas the ST-EP organisation has succeeded in implementing a range of what it terms ‘library’ projects in a number of countries, the general feeling – even within the UNWTO Secretariat – is that ST-EP has failed to live up to expectations, both of the mother body and, more importantly, of the 157 member states themselves.
The promised Korean funding therefor has simply not materialised and, given the chaos which has now engulfed the body-politic in Seoul and which seems destined to continue for some time, is unlikely ever to materialise.

The manner in which ST-EP has been managed has also not been without controversy: indeed, unhappy with the way in which its funding has been utilised, some countries have suspended any further contributions towards ST-EP, prompting suggestions that there may well be need for some form of forensic audit in order to clear the air and renew confidence in the organisation.

Some UNWTO watchers have expressed their surprise and even disappointment at Mrs Doh’s entry into the race and interpret it as a means of diverting attention away from the concerns, of some, about her management of ST-EP.

‘What happens to ST-EP ‘? ‘Why is Doh running away’? are pretty constant refrains since her surprise announcement.

Others, well-acquainted with ST-EP issues, are equally surprised about her leadership aspirations given her distinct lack of diplomatic finesse [notwithstanding her apparently self-appointed title of ‘Ambassador’] and her hectoring style of engagement.

“The contrast in management style and overall approach between Doh and the man she seeks to replace, Taleb Rifai, could not be more marked, “commented one Secretariat insider. “Taleb is smooth, tactful and a consummate diplomat: Doh, is anything but tactful or diplomatic”.

At a recent dinner to promote her candidature and to which all other candidates, and others, were invited, Mrs Doh openly called for support from those countries to which she had ‘given money’ by way of development projects under ST-EP programmes.

Obviously she learned little from the misfortunes of a fellow Korean who, some years back, stood as a candidate against Taleb Rifai but had to withdraw from the race when his ‘brown-envelope’ cash-for votes approach was exposed.

To UNWTO insiders, the prospects of a Doh-Voegler double-act and the only marginally preferable but-oh-so-dull Favilla solo effort do not inspire at all.

“Succinctly speaking, it’s depressing. Taleb deserves much better – but , there again, he is the one who put these people in place”, confided one long-time UNWTO staffer who did nothing for Africa or even the region he represents; rather the photo sessions that he enjoyed with African leaders and tourism aficionados.

“From what we Africans or Africa witnessed under Telab, which this writer has continuously criticised him for, none of other insider candidates can provide the calibre of leadership required to build the UNWTO into what it can and should be”.

Informed rumblings from far-distant Addis Ababa, Headquarters of the African Union [AU], indicate that questions are also being asked why Korea – which, through its Korea-Africa Forum, provides a platform to build friendship and cooperation between Korea and Africa – would now seek to undermine Africa’s chances of landing the top UNWTO job, especially since another Korean national, Ban Ki-moon, has just stepped down from a double mandate at the head of the mother UN body itself.

Unfavourable comparisons are being made between Korea and China, with African diplomats praising China for supporting Africa in its quest for the UNWTO job whilst criticising Seoul for challenging that quest.

True, like Africa, Asia has never led the UNWTO, but Asians – including Koreans – have had and continue to have a high profile throughout other, significantly more mainstream UN and other international agencies – including inter alia WHO, IAEA, UNESCO, etc.

‘New blood’ candidates for the UNWTO include the youthful, charismatic Tourism Minister from Zimbabwe, Walter Mzembi, who never fails to impress; Gloria Guevara, the attractive, competent former Tourism Minister of Mexico; and the taciturn, burly Alain St Ange – former Tourism Minister of the Seychelles who controversially quit his job to enter the UNWTO race months after his own country – a member of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community [SADC] and the 54-nation African Union [55 since Morocco re-joined the continental body some three weeks ago] – formally endorsed Mzembi as Africa’s candidate for the top UNWTO post.

Besides the naivety and greedy of Alain St Ange – former Tourism Minister of the Seychelles, the position of African Regional Representative at the UNWTO is occupied by Elcia Grandcourt, another person from Seychelles.

The question is, are there no other qualified person from Africa?

For the Zimbabwean Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Dr Walter Mzembi and Former Secretary for Tourism of Mexico, Ms Gloria Guevara Manzo

St Ange has made no secret of his intention to enter the Presidential race in his own country in two years’ time – which immediately casts serious doubt on the sincerity of his purported commitment to the UNWTO and implies that, if elected Secretary General, he would only serve for two years before standing down to re-enter politics in his own country.

Already under significant criticism from within Africa for its flagrant disregard of both SADC and AU decisions – decisions made by African Heads of State and Government and to which they [the Seychelles] were party-the Seychelles risks yet further criticism by its endorsement of a candidate whose motivation appears to focused more on himself than on service to the UNWTO.

The race is still far from run. Other candidates might yet emerge before the 11th March deadline. Existing candidates might yet withdraw or, like Doh-Voegler, seek electoral couplings with each other in the hope of boosting their chances.

At the end of the day, however, this race is about the future of the UNWTO and the pivotal role it must play in mainstreaming tourism, in all its many facets, at the very core of the global development agenda.

Having read all candidates’ Madrid campaign launch read or listened to the ‘vision-statements’ and contacts with UNWTO staffers and other insiders, it seems obvious that Walter Mzembi stands pretty much alone : not only in terms of his understanding of the industry and the challenges it faces; or his measured, focused programme for addressing those challenges should he find his way to the top floor of the UNWTO building; but equally, in terms of the passion, commitment and energy that positively radiate from within as he articulates that vision and that programme – primarily the need for the UNWTO to champion more inclusiveness and greater equality in its quest for global tourism growth and enhanced relevance within the broad UN family.

But, as the election draws closer and as a means of broadening his already considerable appeal, perhaps Minister Mzembi should give thought to a coupling of his own. Ms Guevara, of Mexico – sharp, business-savvy and the obvious answer to a glaring lack of gender-balance within the upper-echelons of the UNWTO – could well be his perfect running-mate : and what a dynamic duo they would make.

The Minister might well consider squaring this ‘electoral circle’ by also reaching out to Marcio Favilla as a potential third running-mate – ensuring that, when the election dust has settled, the Brazilian stays on and ensures a level of administrative and operational continuity as the incoming Secretary General sets about restructuring the Organisation to his or her liking,

Whereas Favilla is widely regarded as a ‘nice guy’, his leadership aspirations are seen as unrealistic and over-ambitious – certainly by many within the UNWTO headquarters building who, of course, know him well.

An approach by a Mzembi-Guevara election alliance might actually be his best chance of survival within the Organisation and certainly something which he should consider; if ever such an approach were to be made.

The origin of UNWTO stems back to 1920 when the International Congress of Official Tourist Traffic Associations [ICOTT] was formed at The Hague. Some articles from early volumes of the Annals of Tourism Research claimed that the UNWTO originated from the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations [IUOTPO], although the UNWTO states that the ICOTT became the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations first in 1934.

Another version have it that that the first International Congress of National Tourism Bodies, meeting in ‎London, decides to create a new international non-governmental organization to ‎replace the International Union of Official Tourist Propaganda Organizations ‎‎[IUOTPO], established in 1934.

By On 27 September 1970, the IUOTO Special General Assembly meeting in Acapulco Mexico ‎adopts the Statutes of the World Tourism Organization [WTO].

From 1980 ‎onwards, this day was declared as “World Tourism Day” based on the proposal of a Nigerian Late Ignatius Amaduwa Atigbi [former Head of African Desk at Reuters in London], who was then the Chairman of Africa Travel Commission.

Since the body formerly became a specialised agency of the United Nations [UN] in the field of travel and tourism in 2003 and who heads the agency has become so political and competitive.

Previous heads are, Robert Lonati, [French, 1975–1985], Willibald Pahr [Austrian, 1986–1989], Antonio Enriquez Savignac [Mexican, 1990–1996], Francesco Frangialli [French, 1997–2009] and Taleb Rifai [Jordanian 2010–till date].

Without doubt, Dr. Walter Mzembi, current Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism and Hospitality, Africa’s candidate is the best for the job because of his experience, knowledge and friendship he has made in the last 10 years around the world.

Finally, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Seychelles must respect the African Union decision and ensure Mzembi’s victory come May 2017.

By Lucky Onoriode George
Publisher/Editor: African Travel Times Magazine

Winner: European Commission Lorenzo Natali Prize for Journalists Reporting Human Rights and Democracy

Former Publicity Secretary, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria [FTAN]

Marketing and Public Relations Expert on African Travel and Tourism

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