Relocating UNWTO from Madrid to Riyadh seals the United States of Tourism


There will be a new tomorrow for tourism. This new tomorrow, or some say the new normal may have already started. It appears Saudi Arabia emerges as a clear thinker and leader.

  1. Saudi Arabia is emerging as the new giant for the global travel and tourism industry brining leading brand names and sectors of tourism leadership together.
  2. Moving the UNWTO Headquarter from Madrid to Riyadh would be the most bold move ever done, and Saudi Arabia seems determined.
  3. Saudi Arabia may have a chance to lead tourism to the next phase after COVID, At the same time the Kingdom also has a chance to correct some wrongs in the UNWTO election process.

The travel and tourism world needs some help in getting back on track. In the global structure, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is representing the most productive and influential members in the private travel and tourism industry. It’s essential that WTTC can communicate and coordinate with the public sector. The public sector is represented by the UN affiliated agency, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Since UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvilhis took the chair at UNWTO, the World Tourism Organization became an agency with many secrets, including a disconnect to WTTC.

Saudi Arabia gets it. The Kingdom has the money and the influence to put a new normal together and shape the future of world tourism.

China tried this after the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, when Zurab was voted into power. China formed the World Tourism Alliance . This organization however never took off.

The global tourism world is in distress. Every business, every country is fighting for its own survival in the times of the pandemic. While many are cutting down on most expenses, Saudi Arabia is spending money on tourism like no country was ever able to do: Billions and billions of Dollars.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb has been seen traveling the world in style and always with a large delegation of advisors.

Most likely he had networked by far more, and by far wider than the UNWTO Secretary General. The Saudi delegation always is the star at every event.

In April this year, WTTC was able to pull off the first global summit after COVID-19 and united the world of tourism in Cancun, Mexico.

With a little help from Saudi Arabia represented by HE ‎Ahmed Al Khateeb, the minister of tourism for the Kingdom, some delegates attending the WTTC Global Summit went home with a glimmer of hope after meeting with the Saudi minister. He was called the shining star of world tourism.

Two weeks after this succesful WTTC summit, the CEO of WTTC and the host of the summit, former minister of tourism for Mexico, Gloria Guevara, announced, she will move to Saudi Arabia in July to become an advisor to the Saudi tourism minister.

In other words the Saudi minister just hired the most influential woman in tourism as his advisor. Gloria is now in Riyadh working for the Saudi Government.

The Saudi minister at the time said: “We have a strong national heritage and thousands of unique stories to be told. Gloria brings international expertise and a tremendous global network from her time representing the global tourism and travel sector as the CEO of WTTC and direct experience with evolving a nascent tourism industry from her time as Secretary of Tourism in Mexico, that will help us as our large-scale investment in tourism moves to the next level.”

The minister is correct. Gloria is not alone in her new neighborhood. A regional center for WTTC was opened as a gift by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism.

Also the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) set up of a regional office in Riyadh, to support the growth of Middle East’s tourism sector as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

The office covers 13 countries within the region and serves as a platform to build long-term growth for the sector and human capital development in the travel and tourism sector in the region.

The office includes a dedicated Statistics Center whose objective is to become the leading authority on tourism statistics for the region.

The final step is in the making according to reliable eTurboNews sources.
It is moving the World Tourism Organization from Spain to Saudi Arabia.

The UN affiliated agency has been in Madrid, Spain since its formation on November 1, 1975. This gave Spain a permanent seat and the voting power in the Executive Council, the governing organ of the World Tourism Organization.

Relocating UNWTO to Saudi Arabia would be a giant step and an important change for global tourism. It would give the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia not only a lead in this industry, but a permanent executive council position.

Such a step must be approved by the General Assembly scheduled for October this year in Morocco. Read UNWTO General Assembly Morocco: A secret not yet revealed?

According to eTurboNews sources, the Government of Spain reacted disappointed and is strongly opposing to such a step.

It appears this move may have been already planned in September 2017 at the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, China.

UNWTO General Assembly 2017

It may explain why Saudi Arabia supported Zurab Pololikashvil in his questionable election in China, and his re-election drive in January this year for UNWTO SG against the candidate from Bahrain, HE Mai Al Khalifa .

Both former UNWTO Secretary Generals, Dr. Taleb Rifai and Francesco Frangialli opposed the way this election took place. They wrote an open letter in a call to restore decenct in the UNWTO election process . This advocacy project was an initiative by the World Tourism Network, a private organization with tourism leaders in 127 countries, and had the signature of many leaders.

Former UNWTO Assistant Secretary General and former WTTC CEO Prof. Geoffrey Lipman. Louis d’Amore, founder and president of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT), and Juergen Steinmetz, chairman of the newly established World Tourism Network signed their name in support of the letter.

UNWTO’s performance in world tourism has been questioned behind the scene by many.

According to eTurboNews sources, countries had been reaching out to Saudi Arabia for help.

There is a growing lobby of support building to move UNWTO to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has been an excellent host and friend to the industry when maneuvering through impossible challenges on so many levels.

However voices of opposition are saying this would give Saudi Arabia too much control, others are refering to human rights issues and equality in the kingdom.

The UNWTO General Assembly would need to approve the recommendation by the UNWTO Executive Council in January to confirm Zurab Pololikashvilhis for a second term.

Saudi Arabia is opening the door to bring the world of tourism together. It could correct some wrongs, and set the path for a post COVID-19 tourism industry future.

eTurboNews reached out to UNWTO SG Special Advisor Anita Mendiratta and to Marcelo Risi, Director of Communications, World Tourism Organization. There was no response.



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