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UNWTO Secretary General and the role Africa plays

UNWTO Secretary General and the role Africa plays

The race is on for the next UNWTO Secretary General. Candidates are heading to Madrid during the upcoming FITUR to introduce themselves.  Specifically in Africa, the fight for Africa is becoming unpredictable.

The current Secretary General, Dr Taleb Rifai – a Jordanian national – has held the post for the past seven years and is due to step down at the end of 2017. Elections for the post are due to take place during the UNWTO Executive Council meeting scheduled to be held in Madrid in mid-May, 2017. Widely respected for his leadership of the Organisation, Dr Rifai is seen as a unifying figure whose legacy rests on the slow but steady rise in the profile and indeed the impact of tourism as a vehicle for the promotion of understanding between peoples and cultures.

SADC member states – including Seychelles – unanimously endorsed Dr. Mzembi’s (Zimbabwe) candidature in March 2016. African Heads of State and Government, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016, added their own unanimous endorsement of Dr. Mzembi, who thus became Africa’s candidate for UNWTO.

Dr. Mzembi last week got unexpected competition. Entering the race for the second time is the former minister of tourism for the Republic of Seychelles, Alain St. Ange.  Mr. St.Ange resigned as the minister of his country on December 28 to concentrate on his UNWTO campaign. Mr. St. Ange was one of the first voicing interest in the UNWTO position.

After initially announcing his candidacy the former Seychelles minister  backed out several months ago. His political party lost the election in the Seychelles, but the popular and outspoken Hon. St.Ange was able to maintain his minister post and even expanded to include aviation and marines.

At the same time, the Hon. Walter Mzembi went full steam traveling the globe successfully campaigning for Africa.

With three or four other expected candidates from Europe and Latin America, there is no unity in that part of the world either. Therefore if anyone from Europe or Latin America wants to win, splitting up African votes would definitely help.

The importance of Africa and the ambitions at that time by South Korea to treat Africans well was very much a factor when Taleb Rifai was elected.

Although there is no officially recognised system of regional rotation when it comes to filling the post of UNWTO Secretary-General, there has emerged a general sense of understanding that, given the right candidate, Africa – which has never held the top post before- could be well-placed to assume leadership of the Organisation and to take it to new heights of consequence and recognition within the broad United Nations family.

Both Latin America and Europeans already served as the  UNWTO Secretary General.

Name Years of Tenure
France Robert Lonati 1975–1985
Austria Willibald Pahr 1986–1989
Mexico Antonio Enriquez Savignac 1990–1996
France Francesco Frangialli 1997–2009
Jordan Taleb Rifai 2010–Present

An article just published in the London Evening News commented on the surprise move of the former minister of tourism for the Seychelles entering the race.  In so doing, and should he receive the official endorsement of his  government, he and his government will be openly breaking ranks with the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) and 54-member African Union (AU), both of which have long ago endorsed a single candidate to carry Africa’s bid to win this coveted post.

Indications by several sources may paint a different picture of other political forces outside Africa to encourage both African candidates to run for the UNWTO post. Both men are highly motivated and qualified to bring a breeze of fresh air into the UNWTO establishment.

Unless any of the two enjoy an enormous support outside Africa against the 3 or 4 competitors already in the race, it would be an almost impossible fight against all odds.

Maybe this is what  candidates from Georgia, Brazil and possibly Mexico bank on?

In May 2016, the UNWTO Secretary General put the Executive Director for Operational Programs and Institutional Relations, Márcio Favilla Lucca de Paula from Brazil, second in charge of UNWTO.

As it was expected by many, Marcio Favilla is now one of the contenders endorsed by his home country Brazil.

One may look a step further and analyze where the second powerful organization representing the largest 100 private members in the global travel and tourism industry has more interests in. When asked by eTN, the President & CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) David Scowsill responded:

“Public comments on the selection process for the next Secretary General for UNWTO and on the merits of individual candidates are not matters for WTTC.”

The question is what could have been said – not in public. There is a lot going on, and we’re entering exciting times.

If  Gloria Guevara from Mexico decides to enter the race,  she worked for Sabre Travel Network and Sabre Holdings for 15 years in a variety of positions. She was based in Mexico City, then Coral Gables Florida, where she had regional responsibilities and worked for the Latin America and the Caribbean region, and later held global responsibilities as Vice President for Customer Solutions and Vendor Management in the Information Office in the Sabre headquarter in Southlake Texas. Gloria was also the CEO of Sabre de Mexico, a joint venture between Aeromexico, Mexicana, and Sabre holdings, where she was reporting to the board of directors.

Sabre today holds a WTTC Executive Committee seat. Even though Gloria Guevara is no longer with Sabre and operates her own consulting firm in Florida, is there an expectation or connection? At this time Gloria Guevara is not even a candiate, so this may all be unsupported rumors.

Two candidates will be clashing with their launch event in Madrid on January 19.
Marcio Favilla and Walter Mzembi are competing at 7.00pm during FITUR to get supporters attend their launch. The Zimbabwe event was moved due to a conflict with Spain, the host of FITUR.

Two candidates are now also competing to get their supporters to their Madrid event are inviting 19.00h, January 19:

Marcio Favilla:  Brazilian Embassy, Calle Fernando El Santo, 6, Madrid
Eng. Walter Mzembi: Torre de Cristal Planta 3I, Paseo de la Castellana, 259.28046 Madrid.

Zurab Pololikashvili, Ambassador of Georgia to Spain already had his launch event in Madrid attended also by Taleb Rifai


Splitting up Africa is risky, and brings a new element into the already very difficult race.

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