In some of the most influential media in Spain, articles have been published pointing out the possibility that the World Tourism Organization will abandon its headquarters in Madrid, where it has been installed since its birth in 1975.
The UNWTO is a body dependent on the United Nations Economic and Social Council. There are 159 states, of the 193 that the United Nations has. Among those who do not participate are some of the main emitters of tourists such as the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, and the five Nordic countries.
Its governing bodies are: the General Assembly that meets every two years – the next, delayed from 2020, will do so at the end of the year in Marrakech -, the Executive Council, of which Spain is a permanent member because the headquarters are here, the Regional Commissions and the general secretary, which is where power resides. The current Secretary General, Georgian Zurab Pololikashvili, was elected for the 2018-2022 period with the support of Spain and hopes to be re-elected in the next Assembly.
The Spanish Government, through Foreign Affairs, pays the annual contribution and the expenses of the headquarters. The objective of the UNWTO is the promotion of responsible, sustainable and accessible tourism .
Relations between the Secretary General of the UNWTO and the Spanish Government – Foreign Affairs and Tourism – have always been complicated. There is currently an agreement for the transfer of the Offices to the Palacio de Congresos de la Castellana – closed since 2012-, when it is enabled. The delay in the transfer is being used as an excuse to negotiate another venue. The movement is led by Saudi Arabia, which relies on its bottomless pockets to obtain the support of two-thirds of the members necessary for change.
A failure for Spain?
For some tourism experts who do not sympathize with the Government, if that happened, it would be “a diplomatic, political and economic failure without palliations, which would seriously damage the image of Spain that would also lose the world capital of Tourism and its ability to influence in the sector”.
They erroneously assume that by being the headquarters of the UNWTO, a country becomes the world capital of tourism -in reality it is London, where the main airlines, tour operators and tourism media are located- or that by the same reason has the capacity to influence the sector, which it does not have. They ignore that it would not affect the image of Spain in any way, since world public opinion does not know what the UNWTO is and where it is located.
Although the matter itself is not important, it is convenient that the headquarters remain in Madrid for internal political reasons . That is what is going to happen, because it is easier to convince one third of the countries not to leave than two thirds to do so. But in any case, you have to stop looking at Paseo de la Castellana and take a look at Mecca.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman oversees the 2030 plan that aims to go from a 1% contribution of tourism to GDP to 10%. The plan is executed by the Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb, who has hired the former Mexican minister of the sector, Gloria Guevara, as chief special adviser ( sic ).
In May they already managed to install the UNWTO Regional Center for the East, the first to be created.
The Red Sea project is underway, on the north coast of the country, an immense tourism development in which the Foster study participates, among others, which has also designed the neighboring airport. The first guests will arrive in late 2022.
They also want to make Jeddah an international air hub while financing the expansion of the Saudi national airline. The icing on the cake would be the transfer to the capital of the UNWTO headquarters.
The General Assembly in Marrakech and the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow will coincide in time at the end of the year. Faced with the universal clamor that demands active policies, the transfer to the largest oil producer in the world would be negatively perceived by Western public opinions, in which the greens have influence, who would confront the governments that support that change.
European countries with the Next Generation planthey couldn’t do it. Others would not do it for different reasons, religious in the case of Iran. Furthermore, the Saudi regime is accused annually in Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports of human rights violations. And of course his policy towards women is frequently denounced.
It could only come to count on the support of small states that receive rather than contribute, but their votes are not enough. The only major supporter of the Saudi regime, the United States, is not even in the Organization. In Marrakech the change will not be decided. Moreover, the matter will not even be voted on. Analysts should remember that, as psychologists say, most of the things we worry about never happen. This is one of them .
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