UNWTO Election: The winner is Prime Minister of Georgia Girogi Kvirikashvili

The UNWTO General Assembly has not yet voted on the confirmation for Ambassador Zurab Pololikashvil  to become the next UNWTO Secretary-General, but the Georgian Foreign Ministry already announced the outcome on its website and official newsletter.

At this time there is only the recommendation by the UNWTO Executive Council, but not the confirmation. The confirmation by the full General Assembly needs 2/3 of all member countries attending the next General Assembly to confirm the Executive Councils recommendation. The next General Assembly is planned for September in Chengdu, China.

Georgia’s announcements reads:

Georgia’s candidate – Zurab Pololikashvili has become the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) On 12 May 2017, Georgian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Spain and Georgia’s Permanent Representative to UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) for the period 2018-2021.

This is the first case when the Georgian candidate assumed a leading position at a significant international organization.

The elections were conducted within the framework of the 105th session of the Organization’s Executive Council in Madrid. A majority of the Council’s Member States voted in favour for Zurab Pololikashvili.

The election of the Georgian Candidate as UNWTO’s Secretary General highlights Georgia’s role and aspiration to make its own contribution to the implementation of world governance.

Besides, Zurab Pololikashvili’s election to the influential position of the World Tourism Organisation clearly indicates that the international community supports Georgia’s reforms and achievements in the area of tourism.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs highly appreciates the support of all Member States of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), sincerely congratulates Ambassador Zurab Pololikashvili on this victory and wishes him every success in his new important office.

The underlying message is for Georgians to think this election would be good for the country to gain influence. 

For this global influence, Georgia put up a quiet but a very effective fight that made the real winner in this exercise to be Girogi Kvirikashvili, the Prime Minister of Georgia.

PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili, is the one who pitched his Ambassador to Spain, Zurab Pololikashvili as his candidate for UNWTO Secretary General when  he was speaking as a head of state about the UNWTO Sustainable Tourism in January this year at FITUR Madrid. He took advantage of his position as PM when other candidates in the audience felt Georgia was taking the event hostage for the Prime Minister to explain why Zurab should be the next Secretary General.

The Georgia Prime Minister at the same occasion visited the UNWTO headquarter in Madrid.  He was the winner again when UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai rewarded him with the unveiling of an Honorary Plaque at the organization’s headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

Rifa definitely meant well when he said in January: “We are blessed and honored to have the Prime Minister [of Georgia], of whom I think very highly. When it is about Georgia, I am biased. Georgia is a wonderful country, a country full of life and energy, the most beautiful people, happy and smiling, that make you feel at home. I am very touched and honored that the Prime Minister of Georgia took time from his very busy schedule and accepted [our invitation] to be here with us today”, Rifai stated after a meeting with Kvirikashvili.”

The PM responded to UNWTO Secretary Rifai: “The candidate for the position of Secretary-General that Georgia is humbly nominating, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Georgia’s Ambassador to UNWTO and to Spain, with his very strong background in tourism, will become an excellent candidate for this very highly-esteemed position. He will be a worthy successor to uphold the values and priorities deeply entrenched in this organization, with the personal contribution of Mr. Taleb Rifai”.

The PM’s support for his ambassador Zurab was ongoing. Zurab himself hardly made any public statements, and he did not campaign in a visible manner. His only public statements were words of “thank you.”

It appears that under the leadership of the Georgian Prime Minister, the political maneuvering in negotiating votes was made outside the travel and tourism arena and on a head of state or foreign minister level.

The foreign minister for Peru mentioned to an eTN source months before the election that his country already decided to support Georgia, because Georgia had supported Peru a while ago in another matter. Such dealings were obvious and seen with more and more countries.

Georgia cut bilateral deals in exchange for votes. Countries that agreed to such deals may have forgotten their responsibility. As an Executive Council country, not the national interest of that country, but the common interest for a region of 5 countries should play the key role when making decisions as a member of the council. Every 5th member country of UNWTO gets to nominate one Executive Council member.

Even though Zurab was never in the foreground and hardly ever said anything. He usually did not attend any UNWTO events, but the rest of Georgia’s leadership worked tirelessly. Even on the day the Executive Council had already met in Madrid, the Georgian embassy in Madrid delivered tickets to undecided voting Executive Council members to join Zurab at a sold-out football game.

This was not the end of a flawed process.
In October 2016, a formal announcement of the forthcoming vacancy at the head of the UNWTO was made. The same announcement called for those interested in contesting for the post to submit the requisite documentation to the UNWTO Secretariat (Legal Counsel) by midnight on March 11, 2017.

The required documentation for a candidate to submit was as follows:

  • Letter of the Candidate
  • Curriculum Vitae of the Candidate (2 pages
  • Statement of Policy and Management Intent (6 pages)
  • Certificate of Good Health signed by a recognized medical facility
  • Letter of support from the Government of the country nominating the Candidate
  • Only nationals of member states of UNWTO may be candidates
  • Candidates shall be formally proposed to the Executive Council, through the Secretariat, by the governments of the States of which they are nationals
  • Voting shall be conducted by secret ballot in accordance with the Guiding Principles for the Conduct of Elections by Secret Ballot attached to the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly
  • The vote shall be decided in accordance with Article 30 of the Statutes and Rule 28 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, by simple majority, defined as 50% plus one of the valid ballots cast
  • The selection of one nominee by the Council shall be conducted, in accordance with Rule 29 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure, during a private meeting, part of which shall be a restrictive meeting, as follows:
  1. a) Discussion of candidates shall be conducted during a restrictive private meeting at which only voting delegations and interpreters shall be present: there shall be no written record and no tape recording of the discussions
  2. b) During the balloting Secretariat staff necessary to assist with the voting shall be admitted


An Aide-Memoire compiled by the UNWTO Legal Counsel and made available to delegations by the UNWTO Secretariat further clarified the steps to be followed by the Executive Council “for the selection of a nominee for the post of Secretary General in the period 2018-2021.”

Step 1: Presentations by the Candidates

  • The Candidates will make an oral presentation of their candidacy (10 minutes each), called by the Spanish alphabetical order of their surnames.

Step 2: Restrictive Private Meeting: Discussion of the Candidates

  • Prior to the voting, the Chair will moderate a “discussion on the candidates” in a restrictive private meeting. This restrictive private meeting can be attended only by:

1) Members of the Executive Council (delegations from Full Members), duly accredited
2) Interpreters and if requested by EC Members, any other staff of the Secretariat
3) Note: Recording is forbidden and Candidates are NOT allowed at the meeting

Step 3: Normal Private Meeting: Vote by Secret Ballot
After the discussion, the Council will convene again in a normal private meeting and will hold voting by secret ballot. The decision will be taken by simple majority. The normal private meeting can be attended only by:

1) All Full Members of the Executive Council, duly accredited
2) Other UNWTO Full Members, the Representative of Associate Members and the Representative of Affiliate Members of UNWTO, as observers
3) Chairs of Regional Commissions
4) Interpreters and necessary staff from the Secretariat

According to information received by eTurboNews from two independent sources, Mr. Abulfaz Garayev of Azerbaijan, the Chairman of the Executive Council, allowed step one to complete but…

Step 2 – the “Discussion on the Candidates” was bypassed.

The Executive Council was, therefore, rushed to vote without any time or any opportunity allocated to the stipulated “discussion on the candidates.” Voters were unable to compare or evaluate the vision the candidates have for the future of UNWTO and world tourism.

Documentary requirements of all candidates included a 2-page Curriculum Vitae and a 6-page Statement of Policy and Management Intent.

These key documents provide a concise but nevertheless detailed synopsis of the candidate’s academic and professional qualifications relative to the position being sought, along with a comprehensive synopsis of the vision of each candidate for the future development of the UNWTO under his/her leadership.

Again, no effort was made by the Chairman nor by the Secretary General to seek or to encourage any debate or discussion on the candidates on their relative strengths and weaknesses to lead this organization.

Since the election, many Executive Council Member States and the General Membership have expressed their concerns at the flawed election process in Madrid – specifically the failure by the Chairman and Secretariat to abide by their own Rules of Procedure.

Georgia has not once commented or answered questions regarding the media raising concerns about the fairness and legality of the election.

In the public eye, Zurab remains a no one. To give his reconfirmation at the upcoming General Assembly a last push needed for Georgia to receive the 2/3 confirmation of all UNWTO member countries, and to lead world tourism, is again none other than Georgia’s Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who plans to travel to China and witness his ambassador to become the new global leader in world tourism.

Taking the sensitive, important, and strategic role Georgia has as a country, specifically in reference to the European Union and its allies, it would not only be embarrassing but more unlikely for a UNWTO General Assembly to voice its concern that this election process was allowed to proceed.

It may take more than that. It may take the current Secretary General to step in. It may take countries that are concerned about fairness and corruption and the ability to put political priorities aside to take another look at the process, the missing rules and procedures, and the clear violation of some of the remaining procedural requirements in place.