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November 19, 2018

Prof. Geoffrey Lipman speaks out on UNWTO Secretary General Election

WorldTourismWire repeatedly reported about possible rule violation and illegal interferences in the election process of the UNWTO Secretary General. In this report Professor Geoffrey Lipman,  a tourism veteran agrees with World Tourism Wire and confirms if anything illegal in this election can be proven,  the  UNWTO General Assembly would send the election back to the Executive Council. Should this happen, the organization will be able to reset easily, not hurriedly and pick up the process, exactly as its rules provide. The Secretariat is well able to support that.

Professor Geoffret Lipman is former Assistant Secretary General of UNWTO, first President of WTTC and Executive Director at IATA He has known and worked with at least 5 Secretary Generals, He is independent with no vested interest in any of the candidates’ campaigns.


Professor Lipman wrote:

I have watched with increasing concern the campaign to question the 2017 Secretary General election. I decided to weigh in, as a long-time observer of the organization – from outside and inside. I have been engaged, at many of its critical junctures for nearly 50 years, I remain a fan of UNWTO and totally independent of all the candidates. Indeed In an earlier comment to UNWTO wire I made the point that despite having been asked to support one friend, I wouldn’t – because my views would scarcely be relevant any more and why lose friends at this stage of life. Now I feel it’s time to add a different perspective to provide some degree of balance.

The essential point is that UNLESS SOMEONE CAN PROVE that there was anything illegal about this election, all of the rest is hype. The Chengdu Assembly should not be clouded by this.

My own observation over the past year is that the election generally followed the norms that have been established for the organization over the years: one still transitioning into the UN system, yet anxious to keep its traditional practices. I have known virtually all of the candidates – all meet the current qualification criteria.

I was present at the Madrid Executive Council and saw no evident irregularities – the post-election insinuations seem overplayed. One could look for fault at many levels – but the facts are that all candidates use established processes to shore up their positions or to secure votes in advance of and during the election. This has always been the case, it is the norm – and not just in UNWTO.

There are also many more fundamental questions that could be asked about those processes – the absence of a professional selection/vetting system, the vagaries around national endorsement and state financial support, the fairness of running a “ticket” for a single position, the maximum age of candidates, the support of blocks, the promises of secretariat positions and the like.

BUT now should not be the time to ask them – now should be time to move on.

And in the event that the Assembly exercises its right to reject the Executive Council recommendation – which has never happened to date – there are routine processes to cover this. The decision will be sent back to the Executive Council. Should this unlikely event happen, the organization will be able to reset easily, not hurriedly and pick up the process, exactly as its rules provide. The Secretariat is well able to support that.

What this surreal situation shows is that there is a good reason for an objective review and modernization of the election process, as well as a measured examination of the costs/consequences of a deeper integration into UN System norms. Followed by Action

This would be a great first project for the next Secretary General (who-ever that is) and the Executive Council.

Moreover, there are three caveats I would make.

First it should be done in full coordination with the new UN Secretary General’s Office, not left to UNWTO itself. This to avoid undue historical influence.

Second it should be closely aligned with the new UN Agenda for SDG implementation and UN System Reform, which has not seen much progress in the past decade – at least as regards the complex cross cutting travel & tourism sector.

Third it should reflect the existential reality of Climate Change. Our sector may well prove more exposed than any to this extreme weather, migration, bio-diversity, disaster inducing phenomenon. And we should build our responses into our institutions and programs while we still have the chance.


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