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UN Tourism Body Raises Bar For Transparency
October 18, 2011
UN Tourism Body Raises Bar For Transparency


18 October 2011

United Nations:
The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) ended its 19th biennial general assembly in Seoul last week by setting new standards of transparency and accountability for the entire travel industry and its myriad membership-based associations.

Fulfilling one of the key pledges made by the Secretary-General Taleb Rifai on his election two years ago, the UN agency posted all of its meeting documents online for full public view. They include detailed finances, membership status, projects, activities, staffing and much more.

The documents show in clear detail the entire structure of the UNWTO, who sits on its various bodies and committees, its financial situation, and what is being done to make it more efficient and focused.

One of the most critical documents on the list is "A Reform Process for a More Relevant UNWTO", which sets out in 32 pages how the organisation is reinventing itself to meet membership needs in the context of a rapidly changing global and industry.

This warts-and-all white paper is a readymade blueprint for other international travel industry organisations facing a similar exercise. By reading it they could save millions of dollars in consultancy fees as they go down a similar path.

Attended mostly by tourism ministers from around the world, the UNWTO assembly is largely a housekeeping exercise, intended to approve finances and budgets, elect officers, hear reports and comment on future plans.

The secretary-general also reports on the progress made on implementing the plans approved at the last general assembly in Kazakhstan in 2009.

From a legal and administrative standpoint, all this can be quite a cumbersome exercise, just as in any publicly funded institution.

But making the documents public allows whoever is interested to better understand the process, get involved in it and get access to free reports, such as the UNWTO's long-term forecast, Tourism Towards 2030.

All the election processes and rules are also clearly demarcated and transparent.

The body's financial information will certainly be well scrutinised, as many government members are demanding value for money, more transparency and more return on investment as they review their memberships in international organisations.

Another key document shows that 23 countries still owe the UNWTO 7.85 million euros in dues.

Various plans are afoot to get them to pay up within a fixed but phased period.

Paradoxically, one cost-cutting exercise involves cutting back on staff travel.

Says the report, "Efforts are being made to reduce the number and the cost of trips by secretariat staff to the strict minimum, and to abide by the established rules regarding travel in business class for trips of 9 hours or more.

"The secretary-general, on his part, will no longer use first-class travel and his special travel allowance has been reduced by 50%.

"Increased used of video conferencing is being increasingly used to communicate with other UN agencies and this practice will also be encouraged in the communications with governments."

Perhaps the most critical document is a White Paper on the reform of the UNWTO.

It sets out a clear agenda of the issues to be tackled and implementation.

Says the paper, "There is a consensus that the UNWTO requires some fundamental changes in the way it operates, including the thematic areas in which it works, its structure, management and also in the way it interacts with the member states, external entities and non-governmental stakeholders in the tourism sector.

It expressed a belief that "member states should recover the sense of ownership in the organisation", through greater participation in defining priority areas and taking a more active role in committees.

The White Paper essentially says that because the UNWTO cannot do everything by itself, it can do a lot more by forging stronger partnerships with other organisations, especially within the UN system.

Making a clear reference to the need for "additional, innovative funding sources", it also recognises that most of the activities must be targeted at the least developed countries to help them maximise the economic returns and job creation potential of tourism.

Also of note, all the working documents were sent in electronic format and delegations were left to print out what they wanted. There was no paper distribution by the secretariat itself.