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November 28, 2021

UNWTO Policy dismantled and destroyed: Can the Executive Council save UNWTO?

Will members of the UNWTO Executive Council stand silent in San Sebastian today?  Will Executive Council countries stand behind Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili, or will they respect the legacy of Dr. Taleb Rifai?

Today is the day many concerned about the future of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have been looking forward to. Today is the day the UNWTO Executive Council is meeting for the first time under the leadership of Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili.

Pololikashvili has now been in charge of global world tourism for almost five months, and the voices that claimed he needed time to get himself settled in, have gone silent. It appears it’s high time to seek help from Spain, the host country, and the other members of the UNWTO Executive Council at the meeting today.  Spain, as a permanent member, and as one of the most active travel and tourism destinations has a special responsibility.
Are we going to see red distress signals over San Sebastian, Spain, today?

Everyone would hope the Executive Council remembers the words by former Secretary General Dr. Taleb Rifai. Rifai said on December 27, 2017, when he handed over the reigns: “Whatever our business in life may be, let us always remember that our core business is, and will always be, to make this world a better place. I wish Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, the incoming Secretary-General, every success in continuing to drive our sector forward to a better future.”

Everyone who attended the Chengdu General Assembly also remembers how Dr. Rifai single-handedly secured Pololikashvili’s confirmation by acclamation. Click here to listen to Dr. Rifai’s speech securing Pololikashvili’s appointment.

Now after almost 5 months in charge of UNWTO, almost all UNWTO top positions are now filled with cronies of Zurab Pololikashvili.

Our UNWTO, under the new regime of Pololikashvili,  who has been surrounding himself with a new Chief of Staff from Russia and the deputy from Azerbaijan, and other key people, are mostly of his own geographical regions of comfort, none having any experience from the world of multilateral institutions or international protocol, both of which are necessary to run a successful international organization.  Friends put into strategic positions appear to be protecting Pololikashvili from colleagues outside of this circle of buddies.

Pololikashvili let go of the Head of Administration and Finance, the Head of Human Resources, and the Head of IT, but promoted the Head of the Legal Council who stood by him at the UNWTO General Assembly.

The only refreshing move may have been the appointment of Ambassador Jaime Alberto Cabal from Colombia as the Deputy Secretary-General, but even this appointment, according to eTN information, was already agreed to in a game of chess/vote manipulations during the Secretary-General election, when Cabal ran for a short time without any serious campaign, and his expected loss helped Pololikashvili get over the finish line to the top post in global tourism.

Dr. Taleb Rifai during his decade of service succeeded in raising the bars of excellence within the UNWTO and within the UN system. When Rifai started, tourism was not a big agenda item for the United Nations. The UN climate was very different when Rifai handed over the reigns to Pololikashvili. We all can agree on one point, the enormous role the world’s largest economy – tourism – plays on the global stage.

Despite a low budget, Rifai worked to make a substantial difference in diversifying tourism in supporting initiatives like the Peace Through Tourism, Child Protection program, and the Silk Road project, just to name some.

However, all of these projects were canceled, dismantled, or destroyed by Pololikashvili. They were gone with the active broom Pololikashvili is cleaning house with, yet it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake.

eTN Publisher Juergen Steinmetz has been one of the longest-serving members of the UNWTO task group against sexual exploitation of children, and when the annual meeting during this year’s ITB was canceled at the very last minute for no apparent reason, Steinmetz, as a member, tried to get a clarification and never received a  response.
Not responding is the modus operandi for Pololikashvili’s administration. Just last week, Louis D’Amore, founder and CEO of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT), who worked tirelessly most of his life, and for the last 3 years to put a joint conference together with UNWTO, and was finalizing his event with UNWTO, when he, unfortunately, received a one-paragraph note from Pololikashvili’s Chief of Staff canceling the conference.
The email canceled the entire cooperation between UNWTO and IIPT for the conference in one inappropriate paragraph. Louis D’Amore tried to reach out to Pololikashvili for discussion, without success, and without a single response. It should be noted Dr. Taleb Rifai was supposed to be a keynote speaker at the event and is leading the advisory council for IIPT.

During ITB Berlin in March 2018, Alla Perssolva was getting ready to deliver her report on the renowned UNWTO Silk Road program, which she has been working on for 28 years. Without Ms. Perssolva, Silk Road Tourism would not have earned the well-known brand name status it enjoys today. Alla Peressolova was very much looking forward to leading both events at ITB to conclude her UNWTO term and was then hit by a surprise when her name was not on the Berlin travel list. When trying to discuss this with UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, he was not available to talk to her. Again, no discussion, no response.

November 29, 2017, was all about honoring Carlos Vogeler, executive director of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) during the final session of the UNWTO Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth in Montego Bay Jamaica. Vogeler was honored by the Jamaica Minister Bartlett for 9 years of hard work for UNWTO.

Mr. Vogeler has been devoted to his position at UNWTO. Most tourism leaders considered him the second man in UNWTO. Travel and tourism was a 24/7 job for Carlos, and it showed with his results. At the Sustainable Tourism Conference in Jamaica, he again gave his very best, and was leading the UNWTO delegation with Taleb Rifai. It was his last assignment.  Mr. Vogeler was unable to discuss his desire to stay on at UNWTO, or his unexpected sudden departure, which came as a surprise, even though his official period of services had ended.  No response or giving in from Zurab.

These are big name players.  There are many, many other staff members without known, public names who have been ousted, threatened, in addition to other key figures in UNWTO, who are gone from the platform. Whoosh goes the Pololikashvili broom.

On another note, transparent media relations is non-existent, and the transparency with which Dr. Rifai extended to the media is gone.

Of course, Pololikashvili is asked a lot of questions he doesn’t want to answer from inquiring media outlets.  Now its time for the Executive Council to ask the very same questions.

This publication as an example has not been receiving responses from the UNWTO media department, “out of policy”.At the recent WTTC Summit eTN Publisher, Steinmetz was not allowed to ask a single question at a press conference  Pololikashvili attended. According to a well-placed source, Pololikashvili instructed WTTC not to allow eTN to take the microphone during an open media conference.  eTN finds that to be cowardly, and entirely inappropriate for a United Nations agency.

Dismantle and Destroy seems to be the management objective at UNWTO. 

It appears many of the key projects Taleb Rifai put in place over many years of hard work are now being dismantled and destroyed.

All of this seems to be justified by an audit our newly-elected Secretary General ordered/purchased.  He commissioned KPMG to conduct an audit, which delivered the manufactured reasoning for a clean sweep of the entire UNWTO organization.

It’s time for the Executive Council to be more than a rubber-stamp committee. After all, the Executive Council represents the countries of the world seeking income through the largest industry in the world: travel and tourism.

Perhaps its time to find out what it would take for a vote of “no confidence.” This has never happened before in the history of UNWTO, but never before was the global tourism industry in such peril, with the reigns of the world’s largest single industry in the hands of a despot Secretary General who has zero regard for the rich legacy he inherited from the esteemed, cherished leadership of Dr. Taleb Rifai.

This morning in Spain, the Executive Committee of UNWTO will convene for the first time since the new Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili took charge of the specialized UN agency,  based in Madrid, Spain.

The Executive Council’s task is to take all necessary measures, in consultation with ‎the Secretary-General, for the implementation of its own decisions and ‎recommendations of the Assembly and report thereon to the Assembly.‎ The Council meets at least twice a year.‎  Let’s hope they use the time wisely at the meeting today.

‎The Council consists of Full Members elected by the Assembly in the proportion of ‎one Member for every five Full Members, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure ‎laid down by the Assembly with a view to achieving fair and equitable geographical ‎distribution.‎

The term of office of Members elected to the Council is four years, and elections for ‎one-half of the Council membership are held every two years. Spain is a Permanent ‎Member of the Executive Council.‎ Currently, the chair of the Executive Council is Argentina, Vice Chair Zambia, and second Vice Chair India.

Member countries are: Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cabo, Verde, China, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, France, Ghana, Greece, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Paraguay, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Spain, Sudan, Thailand, Uruguay, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Flanders is the representative of the Associated Members, and the Representative of the Affiliate Members is the Instituto de Calidad Turistica  Espanol (ICTE), Spain.

It is up to these members to question Pololikashvili on his antics and rampant mismanagement since he took office, a scant five months ago. It appears the situation to date has been that a new broom comes in, and cleans up whatever was there before. Even to the detriment of programs that were long in place and working successfully.

Almost on a daily basis this publication, eTN, is receiving messages from UNWTO employees, some in the very most inner circle, reporting to eTN about secret interrogations and intimidation of longtime staff members. The very same staff that were happily working cohesively under the Rifai leadership, are now living under a reign of terror, intimidation, and an absence of civility, generated by the newly-hired UNWTO staff and “management.”

In a  separate, very disturbing incident, we regret to have learned of allegations of stalking of one staff member, and abuse. These are currently being investigated by this publication.  We will report on this developing news as we learn more.

So again, perhaps its time to find out what it would take for a vote of “no confidence.” This is new ground for UNWTO, and it is putting global tourism in danger, with the reigns of the world’s largest single industry in the hands of a despot Secretary General who has zero regard for the rich legacy he inherited from the esteemed, cherished leadership of Taleb Rifai.

Dismantling and destroying is not the leadership UNWTO deserves. It’s also not fair to do this to a predecessor, especially to a man of the character and standing Dr. Taleb Rifa earned in the global travel and tourism community.

We ask again: Will members of the Executive Council stand silent in San Sebastian today?

Taleb Rifai and Zurab Pololikashvili were not available for comments on this breaking news.
All eyes, with a keen interest in preserving our UNWTO, will be watching events in Madrid tomorrow.

Reference is made to articles published earlier by eTN and relevant to issues here. it would be worth for UNWTO members to read them again.


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