Taleb Rifai (born 1949) is the current Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, the first Arab to run the 154 member body. He is based in Madrid, Spain, where the UNWTO agency is based. Rifai was born in Jordan in 1949. He is married and has 5 children.
After completing his B.Shia. in Architectural Engineering from the University of Cairo in 1973, Rifai went on to attain a master's degree in Engineering and Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Chicago – USA in 1979. He received his PhD in Urban Design and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia – USA in 1983.
From 1973 to 1993, he was involved in research, teaching and practicing Architecture and Urban Design in Jordan and the United States. He was a professor of Architecture at the University of Jordan in Amman and taught several courses in Philadelphia, Chicago and MIT. From 1993 to 1995, Rifai headed Jordan's first Economic Mission to Washington DC, promoting trade, investments, and economic relations between Jordan and the USA. Rifai was also actively involved in policy making and developing investment strategies in his capacity as Director General of the Investment Promotion Corporation (IPC) in Jordan (1995–1997).
In the three years preceding his service in the Jordanian Cabinet, he was appointed the CEO of Jordan’s Cement Company, one of the country’s largest public shareholding companies with over 4,000 employees. During his term he successfully led and directed the first large-scale privatization and restructuring scheme in Jordan by bringing in the French cement company Lafarge in 1998 and continued to serve as CEO under the new Lafarge management. From 1999 to 2003, he served in several ministerial portfolios in the Government of Jordan, first, as Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in charge of Jordan’s Development Agenda and bilateral and multilateral relationships with donors and agencies. He was subsequently appointed Minister of Information, in which capacity he was spokesman of the Government of Jordan and in charge of communication and public media. During his tenure, he embarked on restructuring public media and in particular the Jordan Television Network.
In 2001, his portfolio was expanded to include the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity. During his term as Minister of Tourism and Antiquity, Taleb Rifai established Jordan’s first Archaeological Park in the ancient city of Petra in collaboration with UNESCO and the World Bank. He also realized several large projects in Jerash, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. As Minister of Tourism, he was the Chairman of the Jordan Tourism Board, President of the Ammon School for Tourism and Hospitality and was elected Chairman of the Executive Council of the UNWTO in 2001.
Prior to assuming his current post, Taleb Rifai was the Assistant Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) for three consecutive years. His responsibilities included the overall supervision and implementation of the International Labour Standards, as well as advising on labour markets and employment policies, particularly in the Middle East region.
He was elected as Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) at the General Assembly, Astana, Kazakhstan, in October 2009 and begun his four-year term on 1 January 2010. He assumed the functions of Secretary-General ad interim of the World Tourism Organization since 1 March 2009 and served as Deputy Secretary-General from February 2006 to February 2009.
UNWTO 2009 elections
Rifai was elected Secretary General of the UNWTO on 12 May 2009. He obtained 20 out of the 31 votes. The closest competitor was the Korean Dr. Oh Jee-Chul, from the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). The Korean candidate only obtained 10 out of the 11 remaining. The remaining one vote was given to Mr. Khalid Malik who is the Pakistani UN Resident Coordinator in China. Furthermore, there was actually a fourth candidate for the position of Secretary General, Mr. Arab Hoballah who was the Chief of Sustainable Consumption and Production in the UN Environment Programme of Lebanon. He had to withdraw from the campaign since Lebanon was not paying to be allowed to present a candidate for the position. The election of Rifai in May was nothing more than a selection of an official candidate to be presented to the 155 member inter-governmental body. In October, the position was ratified and the position of Dr. Francesco Frangialli was usurped in Kazakhstan. Dr. Rifai will hold office until the end of 2013.
Issues in the 2009 elections
The media, after most of the campaigning was done, arose with the possibility that there were some cases of bribery done by the Korean government. During the final phase of the campaign, Dr. Oh, they said, and his government led a strong attack on those countries that could vote and had an economic weakness. The exact "wrongdoings" were never specified.
UNWTO sources said the final stage of the election turned into a "nasty showdown" as Dr Oh launched into a strong attack on allegedly poor corporate governance and assorted other wrongdoings in the UNWTO. The undiplomatic attack caught everyone off guard, and forced Dr Rifai to set aside his prepared election statement and go into a point by point rebuttal. "It was quite a tense moment,” said one source familiar with the proceedings in what was a closed meeting. "It seems to have backfired on Dr Oh with at least a few council members switching their votes at the last minute." The source said Dr Rifai was confident of winning with a tally of at least 18 votes but picked up two more than he expected. The vote is held by secret ballot.
After the vote, Dr Rifai said in his acceptance speech that he would seek to heal wounds by making Korea the first country he would visit. In turn, Dr Oh congratulated Dr Rifai for winning the nomination, but left Mali along with an entourage of more than 20 Korean representatives immediately after the election.
Before being involved in the UNWTO
Dr. Rifai founded Jordan's first Archaeological Park in the ancient city of Petra in collaboration with UNESCO and the World Bank, along with other projects in Jerash, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. His rich career included serving as the Chairman of the Jordan Tourism Board, President of the Amman School for Tourism and Hospitality, and Chairman of the Executive Council of the UNWTO in 2001. From January 2003 to February 2006, Mr. Rifai was the Assistant Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
He also held an important position from 1997 to 2000, as chief executive officer (CEO) of the Jordan Cement Company, one of the largest public shareholding companies in Jordan; and directed the first large-scale privatization and restructuring scheme in Jordan.
Rifai is the current UNWTO Secretary General based in Madrid, Spain. The first trips he made were directed to Korea to 'heal the wounds' that the Koreans had due to the loss in the elections. He has proceeded with actions to prevent Mexican economy to get hurt by the relation that people make with the swine flu.
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