Statement by Hon. Dr. Walter Mzembi at Pretoria dinner hosted by South Africa Tourism Minister

At an event held in Pretoria, South Africa, toasting the new South African Tourism Minister Thoko Xasa on her birthday, Ms. Xasa announced her government’s endorsement of the Hon. Walter Mzembi, Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry for the Republic of Zimbabwe and current Chairperson of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Regional Commission for Africa, as the next Secretary General for the UNWTO.

Hon. Mzembi and Minister Xasa

African ambassadors on the UNWTO Executive Council turned out for the event, and in full force reinforced the position of the South African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to support Dr. Mzembi for the UNWTO Secretary General post, along with ambassadors from North African countries and the Middle East, Egypt, India, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

Following is a transcript of Dr. Mzembi’s speech:

Honorable Minister of Tourism of the Republic of South Africa,

My Dear Sister, Cde Thoko Xasa,

Members of Team Tourism South Africa,

Excellencies Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps – including His Excellency Cde Isaac Moyo, Ambassador of Zimbabwe to the Republic of South Africa,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, allow me to express my profound gratitude to Her Excellency, Honorable Thoko Xasa, for the honor she has bestowed upon myself and my delegation, in arranging this dinner event tonight.

Yesterday, we were in far distant Thailand, participating in the World Travel and Tourism Council. The day after tomorrow, we will be in Lucerne, Switzerland, attending the World Tourism Forum. Then to Azerbaijan – current Chair of the UNWTO Executive Council – and, finally, on to Spain for the election of the new UNWTO Secretary General on 12 May.

Our campaign has taken us literally across the entire world over the past 12 months.

The core of my campaign strategy has been to visit each and every single one of the 33 member countries of the Executive Council – to explain, in person, my vision for the future development of global tourism under the umbrella of the UNWTO if I am fortunate enough to be elected to head that Organization come 12 May.

That world-wide engagement has helped me to shape my vision in a manner which I believe accurately reflects the concerns, hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of UNWTO member states as they look to UNWTO to deliver greater and more effective value in terms of the leadership it provides in this increasingly important economic sector.

I am the only candidate who has approached this election in such a comprehensive, face-to-face manner. The vision of leadership and direction I offer, therefore, goes way beyond the desk-top, cut-and-paste proposals of several of my competitors: it is a vision derived from a personal, pretty near exhaustive engagement with all regional groupings of the UNWTO, and with every single member of the Executive Council.

If I have concentrated on the Executive Council, it is because it is this body, these 33 member states who, on May 12, will cast their secret ballots to produce a Secretary General-elect.

The Executive Council will then propose the name of that Secretary General-elect to the next meeting of the UNWTO General Assembly, where he or she will have to garner a two-thirds majority endorsement of the 157 members of the Organization.

I am an African. I carry the unanimous endorsement of all 15 SADC member states as well as that of all 54 (at the time) member states of the African Union. So, in seeking the leadership of the UNWTO, I bear first and foremost the hopes and aspirations of the entire African Continent: a burden I am proud and very honored to bear.

But, way beyond that, as a global candidate for a global Organization, my vision speaks to all corners of the globe, to all players within our multi-faceted industry and to all communities whose lives can be and indeed are being improved by way of the growth and development of tourism in all those facets.

Unlike all other candidates, I unashamedly represent Change. I present myself as an Agent of Change. And I do so on the basis that our industry – Tourism – and the international context in which it operates is beset, today, by a matrix of complex, highly intricate challenges quite unlike those which it has had to confront at any stage in the past decades.

As Tourism leaders in our respective countries, we too have to change – to adapt to those challenges. And, change too is required at the very apex of global tourism – at the UNWTO.

Gone are the days when the UNWTO required a skilled marketer and communications guru to speak for global tourism: what is required now are the skills and competences of a global diplomat: a leader who can gain access to high offices across the world: who can effectively raise the profile, the voice and the relevance of an Organization which, hitherto, has been somewhat peripheral in terms of visibility and impact within the broad UN system.

The current Secretary General’s term of office expires at the end of this year. And so there will be a new Secretary General as from January 2018. With your support, I very much hope it will be me.

It is vitally important – if the UNWTO is to grow and to fulfil the essence of its mandate – and to respond effectively to these fast-changing circumstances – that the right individual be elected to succeed Dr. Rifai, the current Secretary General.

I believe I am that individual: and I am honored indeed humbled by the faith and confidence reposed in me by the entirety of Africa’s political leadership in endorsing me as Africa’s candidate for the top UNWTO job.

Being in this elective race, for me, is an idea whose time has come! The world is indeed transforming, and CHANGE is confirmed as the only constant; we should never fear change but glean from it ideas. Nor should we fear renewal but see in it an opportunity for regeneration: and, together, we should embrace ” growth with equity ” as a business philosophy. For if we do not, the “bottom three billion” will remain tethered to poverty, a sure threat to globalization and an inevitable gain for nationalism.

Indeed, increasingly at the international tourism conferences I attend, key-note speakers and world leaders openly characterize the future environment as one “besieged by the growing winds of far-right nationalism and unilateralism; the impact of migration, the growing ” fear” leading to closed borders and the application of travel advisories or travel bans as political tools.

How, in such circumstances, do we sustain the enormous gains already made in promoting and facilitating seamless travel, and how do we further enhance the impressive performance of our industry – which, in percentage terms, continues to outperform global average economic growth?

The answer, as I have indicated, lies in transformative leadership!

As Tourism leaders, we have long agreed that enhanced connectivity or connectography is the solution to our challenges.

It starts first with a connected leadership. Are we connected to political and corporate boardrooms, and to communities?

One of my key objectives is to reassert shareholder interest in the UNWTO. To reposition and repackage our sector for better understanding and greater brand visibility.

They are:

Firstly – Administrative and Governance Reforms

UNWTO is primarily state-membership driven, I intend to sign-up the more than 40 countries which still remain outside the UNWTO, including a number of countries which used to be members but withdrew because they simply failed to see the value of such membership. I intend to re-generate that value and to make membership a MUST for all. A universal organization is one which has clout.

I intend to broaden and diversify categories of membership: to create space for the 4 ‘C’s – Cities, Commonwealth, Communities and Companies.

I intend to devolve activity away from Madrid to the Regional Commissions. They have to be more active, more visible and more connected to the Regions and the Communities they represent.

I intend to ensure that the many Resolutions we take as UNWTO are actually implemented and followed-up upon.

I intend to ensure role clarity, to re-assert the intergovernmental agency leadership of the UNWTO, and to reinforce the role of the Private Sector as driver of the tourism industry; with UNWTO facilitating growth of the industry in close alignment with the agreed SDG framework.

I intend to reform the Secretariat. It must be more reflective of the broad membership of the Organization; and it must be more gender sensitive.

The attendant benefit from the above thrust shall be Inclusivity – Tourism for All.

Secondly – Sustainable and Responsible Tourism

Without peace, there can be no sustainable development: indeed, no development at all.

My candidature pledges an irrevocable commitment to the designation of Tourism as a Peace Sector; to be prioritized and facilitated by National Governments. No cause, or ideology should take precedence over or be used to undermine the facilitation of legitimate tourism travel.

I shall seek to broaden the definition of “Security” beyond just Terrorism, to include Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Pandemics, Child Sexual Abuse and even what I term Bio-Diversity Terrorism – Poaching.

I will conclude the Global Convention on Ethics and Responsible Tourism. And I will work against the politicization of travel advisories and travel bans: these are simply No-No’s from a Tourism perspective.

My candidature represents a strong commitment to the SDG’s: a commitment which, during my tenure, will go beyond mere theory and rhetoric to practical implementation by way of innovative resource mobilization and creative fund-raising.

Thirdly – Resource Mobilization and Tourism Funding
The UNWTO Mandate and Charter empowers the Organization to explore this area. Up until now, we have been content to take the easy path, relying on membership subscription payments and occasional benevolence from the richer member states, to fund the Organization’s activities and programs.

I would like to do more and, without departing from that mandate – indeed actually enriching it – I would want for the Organization to be able to better and more effectively respond to the developmental aspirations of member states. They, quite rightly, expect more from their membership, and would welcome some ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking with regard to resource-mobilization and fund-raising for sustainable tourism development.

Global financial flows must extend themselves to tourism infrastructure. The business-development focus of a future UNWTO is to eliminate frictions and to allow smooth flows of capital and, ultimately, connectivity.

Leveraging the very chief indicators of our sector – namely the number of tourism ARRIVALS, TOURISM EXPENDITURE and SUSTAINABILITY – should enable us to make a credible case for the creation of a Global Tourism Fund, similar to Global Funds established for other sectors.

Think-tanking around this and engaging in extensive consultations with developmental agencies and other financial systems within the UN suggest that we are already late in terms of developing and pushing this concept for consideration by our global leadership during the forthcoming UNGA as it celebrates the IYSTD.

Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming UNWTO election, I believe we must initiate a creative work program around this idea.

Connectivity, be it infrastructural, electronic, digital or virtual, is the revolutionary agenda of our times and, with it, comes the growth of tourism.

Fourthly and Finally – Repositioning and Rebranding of the UNWTO

This is an essential component of my vision.

It is clear to me and indeed to many others with whom I have engaged during my year-long campaign, that, in terms of value-addition and relevance, the UNWTO has probably reached its zenith.

Fewer and fewer Ministers are attending Regional Commission meetings, or the Executive Council meetings. They simply do not see the value of such high-level participation. Even as Tourism Ministers, they have other, more important things to do. And so, inevitably, it is the Secretariat – functionaries – who have ‘captured’ our Organization.

And, as a consequence, it has plateaued as a technical agency, number-crunching, analyzing statistics and work-shopping its way through life – having little if any real policy or political relevance or impact within the broader UN system.

I am committed to changing this: to repositioning and rebranding the Organization within the UN system, and at national Government, Private Sector and general community levels as well.

This is why my candidature was the first to challenge internal succession: to reassert shareholder interest in the Organization. And I think we can be pleased with the result – namely a floodgate of candidates from outside the Organization, inspired, I would like to think, by my own call for “renewal”.

A solid foundation has been laid by previous Secretary Generals, most of all by the incumbent, Dr. Taleb Rifai – who leaves a remarkable and lasting legacy in his wake. But the next stage requires us to accept that the environment we are stepping into has changed, and that it requires a different caliber of leadership to successfully navigate those changed and changing tides.

As we enter this final stage of the electoral race, we are six candidates. Let fair and decent competition allow the best of us to emerge as the next leader.

Honorable Minister, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

Once again, I submit that my candidature more than responds to the requirements of such leadership and that my professional and academic qualifications, the experience and expertise I have gained, and the passion, energy and drive I bring to the table more than equip me to serve global tourism to the benefit of all: and, in so doing, to justify the confidence shown in me by our collective African leadership as they put me forward to lead the UN World Tourism Organization.

My current mandate as Tourism Minister of Zimbabwe bears testimony to the tough training and preparation I have had to go through to reposition Zimbabwe after a decade of disagreement with some sections of the International Community. Whereas Zimbabwe was once a ‘to-be-avoided’ destination, it is now very much a ‘must-see’ destination: as confirmed by the 2015 New York Times in its 52 Must Visit Report. Earlier this year, the prestigious Conte Naste Traveller Magazine placed only two African countries in its global top 17 destinations – Zimbabwe at No 13 and Rwanda at No 14.

Arguably the highlight of that repositioning process and indeed of my career as Tourism Minister, and the most celebrated endorsement of brand Zimbabwe, was the hosting, in 2013, of the 20th UNWTO General Assembly at the Victoria Falls: an opportunity extracted from the midst of adversity by way of careful and sensitively managed diplomacy.

Honorable Minister, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

I am ready to lead global tourism.

Thank you again for this great honor. Thank you for your kind attention.

May God Bless you All.

I Thank You