Snowstorms in Madrid, COVID-19 lockdowns in Spain, the “Decency of the UNWTO Election Campaign” by the World Tourism Network signed by two former UNWTO Secretary Generals and hundreds of tourism leaders from more than 100 countries, the fact that some of the voting Ministers of Tourism had already tested positive for COVID-19 – none of this moved the current UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili to reconsider allowing a delay in the upcoming election meeting set to take place in just a few days.
The election for the UNWTO Secretary General term starting in 2022 is on the agenda. The election was moved from May to January by the current UNWTO leadership despite the unsafe travel situation in the world.
Current Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili from the Republic of Georgia will be competing with Her Excellency Shaika Mai Al Khalifa from the Kingdom of Bahrain for the top post in this UN-affiliated agency representing world tourism.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, HE Shaikha Mai Al Khalifa had to charter a private jet to travel to Madrid. She has been spending a few days in the Spanish capital to present her candidacy for UNWTO Secretary-General. During her stay, she has met with a wide range of representatives of member states to set out her vision for the future of the tourism sector. She faces many challenges.
The COVID-19 crisis and lockdown, unseemly political maneuverings by an entrenched rival candidate, and even an unprecedented snowstorm are all challenging this dynamic leader. Yet Shaikha Mai remains characteristically optimistic.
It is not expected many of the 35 member country ministers will be able to travel to Madrid for the Executive Council meeting, and electronic votes are not allowed by the current UNWTO secretariat. Some of the voting ministers are physically down with positive COVID-19 diagnoses, and Spain is in lockdown. Some of the countries have embassies in Madrid, and ambassadors will be allowed to physically attend the Executive Council meeting at UNWTO Headquarters in Madrid on Monday and Tuesday.
In the meantime, some committed healthcare workers in Madrid are making it to work through meters of snow, walking for hours in a minus 20C degree temperature so they can relieve their exhausted colleagues after a snowstorm has left Spain with a double catastrophe.
A deadly storm and the coronavirus pandemic with 25,438 new infections and 408 deaths on Tuesday alone did not convince the current UNWTO Secretary General to postpone the election.
Today, sources within UNWTO and senior members of the diplomatic world told eTurboNews that the current Secretary General has been bragging about votes he claimed to have. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is, that HE Shaikha Mai Al Khalifa has every reason to remain confident, strong, and positive.
She says: “I am enjoying the beautiful city of Madrid, and my visit so far has been very successful. I am confidently approaching a winning majority based upon the commitments of those who believe that it is time for a paradigm shift for the tourism sector.”
HE Al Khalifa promises a dynamic and transparent leadership of UNWTO. In her vision statement, she promises that within the first twelve months of her term, she will have listened to every member state of the organization and drafted a strategy based on what the members need. She also pledges to work tirelessly to secure the resources required to realize those aspirations.
In her own words:
“I am confident that the tourism sector will recover from this crisis as it has recovered from many previous crises. I believe that we need to work closely on the issue of travel protocols, in addition to working with governments on fiscal support schemes,” she said as she remains committed to this proposal.
“It has been extremely difficult due to travel restrictions to travel to the Member States and meet the national tourism organisations in person; but I have done the most I could do given the limitation of time and the circumstances of the pandemic. I am grateful to the commitment I received from so many countries … and look forward to starting a new era. On the issue of gender “having women in leadership positions in not an end but rather a means – a means to inspire many young women around the world to break the glass ceiling
“We are now confident we have a winning majority to deliver on this mandate.“
Response by Tourism Industry Leaders
Many in the travel and tourism industry are disappointed by the current UNWTO leadership forcing such an important event to take place in impossible times.
The Decency in the UNWTO Election is a petition started by the advocacy committee of Hawaii-based World Tourism Network. It was signed by hundreds of tourism leaders in more than 100 countries including 2 former Secretary Generals, an Assistant Secretary, and a former Executive Director of the UNWTO.
UNWTO was unavailable for comments.