UNWTO General Assembly Confirms Zurab Pololikashvili as Secretary-General

Zurab Pololikashvili

Ambassador Zurab Pololikashvili from Georgia was confirmed as UNWTO Secretary General at the General Assembly today.

The confirmation was not elected by secret vote. Dr. Walter Mzembi from Zimbabwe was the first to congratulate him and committed his support. Mr.Pololikashvil said this was a vote of friendship, and thanked Taleb Rifai for his work and China for being a gracious host.

The General assembly audience stood up and applauded, to honoring Taleb Rifai for his tireless work and tenure. Rifai said: “I will miss you all.”

A very active campaign erupted today at the UNWTO General Assembly Chengdu. The elected nominee Zurab could have been accepted or not accepted by open or secret ballot.

Two days ago at the Executive Council meeting, Zimbabwe did not continue to push issues related to a flawed election system at the General Assembly, the allegations were eliminated and also a secret vote was the understanding when all parties came to an agreement.

Today at the General Assembly Taleb Rifai rightfully clarified that there were no flaws in the system and any such allegations had been settled. As expected Gambia asked for a secret ballot and a very heated campaign started among many countries.

Lithuania asked for an open ballot, saying a secret ballot will bring doubts to the organization, hindering the ability to move forward in unity. Many other countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, France, followed by many EU countries: UAE, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Andorra, Peru, Mexico, and Algeria included, didn’t wanted to go against the outgoing Secretary-General Rifai, and the feeling was a secret vote would mean disrespecting Rifai.

Zimbabwe’s minister said, “Zimbabwe would be the first country to congratulate Zurab, if he was voted in a secret vote, but let’s democracy work in this United Nations.”

No nations apparently shared Zimbabwe’s vision and didn’t want a secret vote,  they wanted an open vote, the issue was now being for or against the current Secretariat and Taleb Rifai. It turned into an issue between Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.

Some may say, this could be a sad day for UNWTO to mix democracy with accepting the current leadership. Others may say an open vote shows strength within the organization to demonstrate unity.

Regardless Mr. Zurab was confirmed, but not by secret vote. This was the decision of the General Assembly.

It’s now time to put the issue of the election behind us for the good of tourism and give the new Secretary-General the support he needs.

As an industry, let’s help the new Secretary-General find his way within our industry and encourage openness, communication, and cooperation, not only within the diplomatic circle but within the industry, the media and all of those that are friends of tourism.

Throughout the UNWTO Secretary-General electoral process, as publisher of several well-read, daily global trade publications, I have earned praise, and also the wrath of some candidates.  I never had a horse in the UNWTO electoral race, but as an industry veteran, I do have opinions and views.  I started out in this industry at the grass roots level as a consolidator and later, as a tour operator, specializing in Asia. I know the industry from the bottom up.

The very lofty office Secretary-General of our UNWTO is critical to the very foundations of our industry.  My publications have certainly taken a strong position related to the importance of the Secretary-General position and the election.  I make no apology for that. However, nothing was ever personal, it all has to do what is in the best interest of UNWTO and industry.

What is personal is the people I met along the UNWTO election road, the people who moved me with their dedication, devotion, and love for our industry. With open heart and sincerity, I echo the many honors and messages of support our UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai received. Thank you Taleb Rifai, you truly changed the world of tourism. We will miss you as well! It’s my wish in 4 years to extend the same respect and gratitude to our new Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashivili, who will be in charge of global tourism as of January 2018.

Again, congratulations to the new Secretary-General, Mr. Zurab Pololikashivili.

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