World Tourism Organization

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World Tourism Organization
Formation1 November 1975 (46 years ago) (1975-11-01)
TypeUnited Nations specialized agency
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersMadrid, Spain
Zurab Pololikashvili
icon Politics portal

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations specialized agency entrusted with the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. Its headquarters are in Madrid, Spain. UNWTO is the leading international organization for the promotion of tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability. It provides leadership and support in advancing knowledge and tourism policies and serves as a global forum for tourism policy and a source of tourism research and knowledge. It encourages the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism[1] e Development, Competitiveness, Innovation & Digital Transformation, Ethics, Culture & Social Responsibility, Technical Cooperation, UNWTO Academy, and Statistics.[2]

The official languages of UNWTO are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism stood at an all-time high: 1 out of 10 jobs worldwide depended on tourism and international tourist arrivals reached 1.5 billion in 2019.

Against a backdrop of heightened uncertainty, UNWTO conveyed the Global Tourism Crisis Committee to guide the tourism sector as it faced up to the COVID-19 challenge.

UNWTO Priorities[edit]

UNWTO headquarters, Madrid

Mainstreaming tourism in the global agenda: Advocating the value of tourism as a driver of socio-economic growth and development, its inclusion as a priority in national and international policies and the need to create a level playing field for the sector to develop and prosper.

Improving tourism competitiveness: Improving UNWTO Members’ competitiveness through knowledge creation and exchange, human resource development and the promotion of excellence in areas such as policy planning, research and statistics, sustainable tourism development, marketing and promotion, product development and risk and crisis management.

Promoting sustainable tourism development: Supporting sustainable tourism policies and practices: policies which make optimal use of environmental resources, respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities and provide socio-economic benefits for all.

Increasing the contribution of tourism to poverty reduction and development: Maximizing the contribution of tourism to poverty reduction and achieving the MDGs by making tourism work as a tool for development and promoting the inclusion of tourism in the development agenda.

Fostering knowledge, education and capacity building: Supporting countries to assess and address their needs in market knowledge, education and training, as well as providing networks for knowledge creation and exchange.

Building partnerships: Engaging with the private sector, regional and local tourism organizations, academia and research institutions, civil society and the UN system to build a more sustainable, responsible and competitive tourism sector.

UNWTO and COVID-19[edit]

The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, and tourism is the worst affected of all major economic sectors. Against a backdrop of heightened uncertainty, up-to-date and reliable information is more important than ever, both for tourists and for the tourism sector. UNWTO's priorities shifted towards recovery of tourism increasing its efforts:

  • By cooperating closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), the lead UN agency for the management of this outbreak;
  • by ensuring with WHO that health measures are implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary impact on international travel and trade;
  • by standing in solidarity with affected countries; and
  • by emphasizing tourism's proven resilience and by standing ready to support recovery.

UNWTO COVID-19 Resources[edit]

Sustainability as the new normal - To mark World Environment Day, the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme led by UNWTO announces its new vision for global tourism– growing better, stronger, and balancing the needs of people, planet and prosperity.

Tourism Recovery - Governments have responded quickly and strongly with the level and coverage of measures steeping up over time. Most countries have adopted economy-wide stimulus packages (fiscal and monetary measures) along with job support measures.

Restarting Tourism - At its fifth meeting, UNWTO changed the emphasis towards restarting tourism. The Committee endorsed UNWTO's Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism, an action plan focused on the Priorities for Tourism Recovery.

Recovery for Action - Supporting Jobs and Economies Through Travel & Tourism. A Call for Action to Mitigate the Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 and Accelerate Recovery

Travel Restrictions - This latest research shows that while discussions on possible first measures for lifting restrictions are underway, 100% of destinations worldwide still have COVID-19 related travel restrictions for international tourists in place.

Tourism Recovery Tracker - As tourism slowly restarts in an increasing number of countries, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has developed the first comprehensive tourism recovery tracker worldwide, monitoring a number of relevant indicators throughout the recovery of tourism.

Latest impact assessment - The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer monitors short-term tourism trends on a regular basis to provide global tourism stakeholders with up-to-date analysis on international tourism.

Plastics and COVID-19 - A new set of Recommendations published today outline how the global tourism sector can continue in its fight against plastic pollution while effectively facing the public health and hygiene challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package - We are facing an unprecedented global health crisis, the repercussions of which are being felt in all sectors of society and the economy.

Knowledge - Improve your skills and knowledge by joining the webinars delivered by UNWTO and those created and delivered directly by our partner Institutions and experts. You can join Live Webinars or come back to them in our Recorded Webinars’ section.

UNWTO Global Tourism Dashboard - Loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists. Loss of US$910 billion to US$1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism. 100 to 120 million jobs at risk

Measures to support tourism - This compilation of country and international policy responses aims to share and monitor worldwide measures to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 crisis in the travel and tourism sector and accelerate recovery.

Supporting Recovery - UNWTO calls for solid international leadership and for tourism to be included as a priority in future recovery efforts

Health advice for tourists - As the COVID-19 situation evolves, many people around the world continue to travel: for leisure, for business and for vital humanitarian reasons.

Know the Impact - International tourism has seen continued expansion, despite occasional shocks, demonstrating the sector's strength and resilience and benefiting all regions in the world.


UNWTO Tourism Regions

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has long considered the public and private sector to be integral partners in fulfilling its general mandate of promoting sustainable development in tourism. In addition, UNWTO is the only agency of the United Nations that has private sector members that participate in the governance structure. We believe that the public and private sectors share many common objectives which, in today's globalized world, can be more effectively tackled through collaboration and the establishment of partnerships.

UNWTO members have endorsed the Management Vision and Priorities of the Secretary-General which seeks to position tourism as a policy priority, lead in knowledge creation, enhance the Organization's capacity through building new and stronger partnerships, and offer better value for existing Members while also expanding membership.

“It is absolutely crucial to work towards the enhancement of a new generation of partnerships, partnerships not only with governments, not only with civil society and academia but equally partnerships with the business community in the context of the perspective of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, creating the conditions for an inclusive and sustainable development – the best way to prevent crises and conflicts in today's world”. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

To realize the Management Vision, UNWTO's work is based around five distinct pillars:

  1. making tourism smarter through celebrating innovation and leading the digital transformation of the sector;
  2. making tourism more competitive at every level through promoting investment and promoting entrepreneurship;
  3. creating more and better jobs and providing relevant training;
  4. building resilience and promoting safe and seamless travel; and
  5. harnessing tourism's unique potential to protect cultural and natural heritage and to support communities both economically and socially.

Membership of the UNWTO includes 159[3] states,[4] six territories (Flemish Community (1997), Puerto Rico (2002), Aruba (1987), Hong Kong (1999), Macau (1981), Madeira (1995)),[5] and two permanent observers (Holy See (1979), Palestine (1999)). Seventeen state members have withdrawn from the organization for different periods in the past (with some returned several years after withdrawn): Australia (citing poor value for money), Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada (Canada withdrew from the World Tourism Organization when it appointed Robert Mugabe as a leader in 2013), Costa Rica, El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Kuwait, Latvia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Thailand, United Kingdom and Puerto Rico (as an associate member).[citation needed] The Netherlands Antilles was an associate member before its dissolution.

Non-members are: Australia, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Kingdom and United States.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) rejoined the organization in May 2013, 26 years after having left UNWTO.[6]

Additionally, and uniquely for a United Nations specialized agency, UNWTO has over 500 affiliate members, representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities, non-governmental entities with specialised interests in tourism, and commercial and non-commercial bodies and associations with activities related to the aims of UNWTO or falling within its competence.

On April 27 2022, Russia expressed desire to quit the UNWTO and later the same day UNWTO voted to suspend Russia in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[7]


Name Years of Tenure
France Robert Lonati 1975–1985
Austria Willibald Pahr 1986–1989
Mexico Antonio Enriquez Savignac 1990–1996
Italy Francesco Frangialli 1997–2009
Jordan Taleb Rifai 2010–2017
Georgia (country) Zurab Pololikashvili[8] 2018–


General Assembly[edit]

The General Assembly is the principal gathering of the World Tourism Organization. It meets every two years to approve the budget and programme of work and to debate topics of vital importance to the tourism sector. Every four years it elects a Secretary-General. The General Assembly is composed of full members and associate members. Affiliate members and representatives of other international organizations participate as observers.[9] The World Committee on Tourism Ethics is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.[10]

Executive Council[edit]

The Executive Council is UNWTO's governing board, responsible for ensuring that the Organization carries out its work and adheres to its budget. It meets at least twice a year and is composed of members elected by the General Assembly in a ratio of one for every five full members. As host country of UNWTO's headquarters, Spain has a permanent seat on the Executive Council. Representatives of the associate members and affiliate members participate in Executive Council meetings as observers.[11]


Specialized committees of UNWTO members advise on management and programme content. These include: the Programme Committee, the Committee on Budget and Finance, the Committee on Statistics and the Tourism Satellite Account, the Committee on Market and Competitiveness, the Sustainable Development of Tourism Committee, the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, the Committee on Poverty Reduction and the Committee for the Review of applications for affiliate membership.[12]


The Secretariat is responsible for implementing UNWTO's programme of work and serving the needs of members and affiliate members. The group is led by Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia, who supervises about 110 full-time staff at UNWTO's Madrid headquarters. The Secretariat also includes a regional support office for Asia-Pacific in Osaka, Japan, financed by the Japanese Government,[13] and a liaison office in Geneva as UNWTO's representation to the UN System, the World Trade Organization, and other diplomatic organizations in Switzerland.[14]

Official languages[edit]

The official languages of UNWTO are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.[15][16]


Key tourism statistics
Visa Openness Report

UNWTO research concluded that, by improving visa processes and entry formalities, G20 economies could boost their international tourist numbers by 122 million, tourism exports by US$2016 billion and employment by 5 million.[17]

The Organization's latest UNWTO Visa Openness Report, published in 2016, shows the highest ever percentage of international tourists not requiring a visa to travel - 39% compared with 23% in 2008.[18] The report concluded that the 30 countries whose citizens were least affected by visa restrictions in 2015 were (based on the data compiled by the UNWTO, based on information from national official institutions):[19]

Least restricted citizens
Rank Country Mobility index (out of 215 with no visa weighted by 1, visa on arrival weighted by 0.7, eVisa by 0.5 and traditional visa weighted by 0)
1  Denmark,  Finland,  Germany,  Italy,  Luxembourg,  Singapore,  United Kingdom 160
8  France,  Japan  Netherlands,  South Korea,  Sweden,  United States 159
14  Belgium,  Canada,  Ireland,  Norway,  Portugal,  Spain,   Switzerland 158
21  Austria,  Greece,  Malta 157
24  Czech Republic,  New Zealand 156
26  Hungary,  Iceland,  Malaysia 155
29  Australia,  Slovakia 154

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Global Code of Ethics for Tourism". World Tourism Organization. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  2. ^ "Home | UNWTO". Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  3. ^ "Who we are | World Tourism Organization UNWTO".
  4. ^ "Member States". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  5. ^ territories or groups of territories not responsible for their external relations but whose membership is approved by the state assuming responsibility for their external relations.
  6. ^ "The United Arab Emirates joins the World Tourism Organization - World Tourism Organization UNWTO".
  7. ^ "UN tourism body chief says Russia quitting the organization", Leader Post, 27 April 2022
  8. ^ "UNWTO Executive Council recommends Zurab Pololikashvili for Secretary-General for the period 2018-2021 - World Tourism Organization UNWTO".
  9. ^ "General Assembly - World Tourism Organization UNWTO".
  10. ^ "General Assembly". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Executive Council". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  12. ^ "Committees". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  13. ^ "UNWTO Secretary-General welcomes Japan's support for tourism when meeting with Prime Minister Abe - World Tourism Organization UNWTO".
  14. ^ "UNWTO in International Geneva - World Tourism Organization UNWTO".
  15. ^ "Chinese to become official language of World Tourism Organization". Minsk: Belarusian Telegraph Agency. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  16. ^ "Language Services". Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  17. ^ The Impact of Visa Facilitation on Job Creation in the G20 Economies: Report prepared for the 4th T20 Ministers' Meeting, Mexico, 15–16 May 2012. 2012. doi:10.18111/9789284414727. ISBN 9789284414727.
  18. ^ Visa openness report 2015. 2016. doi:10.18111/9789284417384. ISBN 9789284417384.
  19. ^ "Visa Openness Report 2016" (PDF). World Tourism Organization. Retrieved 17 January 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jafari, J. (1974). Creation of the intergovernmental world tourism organization. Annals of Tourism Research, 2, (5), 237–245.
  • United Nations General Assembly. (1969). General assembly – twenty fourth session.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization. (2007). About UNWTO.
  • World Tourism Organization. (2003). WTO news, 2003 (3). Madrid: World Tourism Organization.
  • "World Tourism Organization changes its abbreviation to UNWTO". UNWTO Press and Communications. 1 December 2005. Retrieved 4 March 2008.

External links[edit]