Five things we learned from UNWTO’s 112th EXCO meeting in Tbilisi

As countries continue to ease restrictions to restart tourism and by extension their economies, one of the sectors worst affected by the pandemic, the travel and tourism industry, (people to people industry) couldn’t have had any better leadership to lead recovery and also lift the fraternity from the staggering job losses and financial conundrum than the current leadership under Zurab Pololikashvili.

The week gone by saw the United Nations’ Specialized Agency for Tourism, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) holding its 112th Executive Council session in the beautiful Georgian capital of Tbilisi. VoyagesAfriq would like to share with our readers the 5 key things Tourism leaders taught us during their meeting in Georgia.

Courage and Confidence to Restart Tourism
Even the ardent and notorious critics of this administration couldn’t help but admire the courage by the Zurab led UNWTO to hold the first major international UN event in person and the deployment of seamless virtual platform to stage this important event. It’s proved that, the highest level of tourism administration was willing to help national governments to restart tourism in a responsible way. It adhered to all protocols with 170 participants from 24 countries taking part. It simply said one bold thing, it’s Possible Together!

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Adapting to New Normal
As it became abundantly clear that hardcore lockdowns and closure of borders were not sustainable, UNWTO’s leadership proved again that with discipline and enforcement of the protocols, it was more than feasible to start tourism and indeed even innovate to withstand any shocks in the future. Ministers who could not be in Georgia easily became comfortable and seamlessly connected making their various points on the floor and some even sharing their presentations during the session.

Taking Opportunities that Covid Presents
There is no denying that, one of the strongest areas for this administration is the digitalization and investment opportunities that it has pushed for the sector. Not in the history of the UN Tourism has the body initiated a number of programs than now with major innovation and business partners to scale up ideas and attract the financial brains into the sector. It would have been surprising to have the event without at least an investment session. The new normal and its investments and business opportunities are the sideline events championed by no other person than the ever energetic and hardworking Head of the Unit’s digital transformation Natalia Bayona. It is an area most member states can adapt to unearth talents to drive the change we need in the tourism sector.

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Showing Compassion…
Since the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, the UNWTO through the launch of the travel tomorrow campaign and the global tourism crisis committee extended their heartfelt condolences to families of victims of the ferocious virus. This could have stayed there but just as the football community showed enormous compassion for our compatriots who have departed courtesy Covid by honouring them on the field and even inscriptions in jerseys, Tourism whose main activities revolve around humans also took the opportunity to observe a minute silence at the opening of the Meeting to the departed souls. We say thank you! Gracias! Obrigado! Merci! It proved why it was leaving no one behind.

International code for the Protection of Tourists rights
The coronavirus pandemic didn’t spare any segment of the travel and world order and perhaps even exposed the vulnerability of travelers in particular where up till now, travelers are battling it with suppliers of the status of tickets, service etc. It is gratifying to note that, the Executive Council during their deliberations promulgated the adoption of the international code for the protection of tourists’ rights and harmonizing tourism consumer rights protection in the post Covid-19 scenario. This will help us build back better!

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The noble agenda to have UNWTO present in all 5 continents brought some excitement when the Secretary General reported of the confirmation by the Saudi Arabian Government to host the first UNWTO office outside of Madrid. The Executive Council under the chairmanship of Minister Najib Balala of Kenya ratified the draft decisions to pave the way for this great stride. Members overwhelmingly endorsed the decision and hoped that others will follow.

Leadership stood in all of this and the Government of Georgia’s example of staging the event can be emulated by other national governments to make the restart even more realistic.

I end my note with Najib Balala’s assertion that tourism, “The soul of travel is interaction “and let’s continue the push albeit the new normal.”

It’s possible together!



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