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The Race for UNWTO Secretary-General

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) announced the names of seven candidates who will be competing in the race for the top tourism industry post of Secretary-General to replace Taleb Rifai when his term ends in December this year. Since the announcement though, the Armenian minister of Tourism, Vahan Martirosyan has withdrawn from the race. By Des Langkilde.

The governments of UNWTO member states Brazil, Colombia, Georgia, Korea, Seychelles and Zimbabwe endorsed their respective candidates for election to the post, which is due to take place during the UNWTO Executive Council meeting scheduled to be held in Madrid, Spain on 11 May 2017.

After 42 years of European, North American, and Asian leadership domination, Africa finally has a chance to take the helm and steer the UNWTO into the global future of tourism as the race for the top post heats up. France, Austria, Mexico, and Jordan have led the UNWTO thus far, with France and Jordan having served two four-year terms.

Since the UNWTO started operations in November 1974 as the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, it has not had an African country Secretary-General at the helm. This despite the fact that one the original aims of the International Congress of Official Tourist Traffic Associations (ICOTT) – the precursor to UNWTO founded in 1920 –  was, and still is, to “extract the best out of tourism as an international trade component and as an economic development strategy for developing nations.”

As the highest office in the global tourism industry, the candidate who wins the race for the post of Secretary-General will influence not only his or her own continent and country’s future, but the future of global issues such air access and the development of sustainable tourism for the next four years (2018-2021), which is why it is so important to have a non-partisan country leader with proven experience, ethics, and vision to win this election.

As a media publisher of travel trade news and editorial content, I’ve researched the backgrounds and followed the campaign speeches of most of the candidates, and I can honestly say that the Seychelles candidate, Alain St.Ange stands out most prominently from the crowd.

Perhaps I’m being biased as St.Ange is the only candidate whom I have personally met. He is also the only candidate who keeps the media informed on his campaign progress, who actually replies to emails and who engages regularly on social media. In fact, when St.Ange still held the position of Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine, he was the only Minister I know of who personally made the effort to meet and greet hosted media late at night on arrival at the islands Mahé airport.

Background

St.Ange has been working in the tourism industry since 2009. He studied Hotel Management and Tourism at schools in Germany and France before launching his own career in hospitality. He held several positions with hotels and restaurants in Seychelles, the Channel Islands, and Australia before landing the role of General Manager for Denis Island, a private resort in Seychelles. It was this extensive experience in the hospitality field, in addition to his political upbringing, that eventually led him to be appointed as the Director of Marketing for Seychelles.

After one year of service, he was promoted to the position of CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board. In 2012 he was instrumental in founding the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Regional Organisation – a consortium designed to combine the strengths of the islands located in the Indian Ocean to present a strong front in a competitive market – to which St.Ange was appointed as the first president. In a 2012 cabinet reshuffle he was appointed as Minister of Tourism and Culture, and subsequently as the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine. He resigned from his Ministerial post in January 2017 to pursue the UNWTO Secretary-General position.

Among his many accomplishments, St.Ange initiated the Carnaval International de Victoria in 2011 – an annual event that not only celebrates culture and diversity but has had a significant impact on Seychelles tourism arrival figures and gained the country countless friends in the media and significant international exposure. St.Ange is fluent in English, French and Creole, and speaks German, which makes him qualified to represent various walks of society.

While all seven candidates have their own distinguished backgrounds and have accumulated the requisite experience, what is more important, is what they plan to do if elected as the next Secretary-General.

Statement of Intent and Management

St.Ange understands that it is not a country’s government that builds a tourism industry – its people do. Those entrepreneurs who invest in creating the products, in employing and training their staff to provide excellent service, the efforts of a myriad of allied service providers (including the media), and above all, the citizens themselves who combine to provide memorable experiences and fond memories as hosts to their international guests – they build the tourism industry.

On the subject of Safety & Security, one of the notable changes to the UNWTO’s current structure that Alain mentions in his Seven-Point-Plan Statement of Intent, is to establish Regional Offices in Member States with a ‘field presence’ person to “…ensure that partner organisations and the media join together to plan the most suitable course of action for the Member States.” He also points out that “The UNWTO must appreciate the importance of the media in this challenge, and it is only by engaging with them as partners that they will be able to appreciate the destructive potential of insecurity on the tourism industry.”

But seeing as my vote, or yours for that matter doesn’t count (unless you serve on the UNWTO Executive Council of course), let’s hope that common sense rather than political manoeuvring prevails in the upcoming elections on 11 May.