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UN World Tourism Organization Chooses Riyadh as its First Mideast HQ

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has set up its first regional office outside Madrid, in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh.


How did it start?

Saudi Arabia hosted the Tourism Recovery Summit and the inauguration of the new UN World Tourism Organization office in Riyadh. The Saudi Kingdom and the World Bank pledged $100 million geared towards reviving the global tourism industry.


This money is to be directed to spearhead sustainable international tourism growth through an international fund for comprehensive tourism. This was clearly stated by Saudi Arabia’s first ever minister of tourism, Mr. Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

The approval

The Saudi minister of tourism got the approval from the Council of Ministers to negotiate with the UNWTO on behalf of the country in regard to the draft cooperation agreement between the Saudi government and the World Tourism Organization. The agreement concerns the development of human capabilities through e-learning. The minister was expected to sign and upload the final copy of the agreement to complete the legal procedures.


The Ministry of Tourism was also given the green light to negotiate with the French and Omani sides before signing the draft memorandum of understanding with Omani Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, and France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. The Saudi tourism ministry needs to sign the documents and upload them to finalize the legal processes for setting up the UNWTO office in Riyadh.


Saudi Arabia is making admirable efforts to boost its international and domestic tourism to diversify its economy. The kingdom heavily relies on oil exports, and it is trying to transform the country into a market with a balance in all its sectors. This was an observation made by Dr. Paul Rivlin, an economist and senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.


This latest development can be seen as an actualization of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a strategic plan led by the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. It is intended to create a more balanced economy and develop public service sectors. Dr. Rivlin explains that being a part of UNWTO aids these efforts by Saudi Arabia.


Oil and gas exports account for nearly 50% of the country’s GDP, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. The kingdom’s Vision 2030 aims at increasing the tourism sector’s GDP contribution from 3% to 10%. This plan includes the Red Sea Project that aims at creating a luxurious tourist destination on Saudi Arabia’s West Coast.


The appointment of Gloria Guevara Manzo

The Saudi Ministry of Tourism announced the appointment of Gloria Guevara Manzo, who worked as a former president of the World Tourism and Travel Council and Minister of Tourism in Mexico, to the position of Senior Adviser. She is to contribute her extensive experience with the Ministry’s work team in moving to the next stage of the development of the tourism sector in the Kingdom within the framework of Vision 2030.


Guevara Manzo is considered one of the most influential women in the sector at the global level. This is because she held the position of Minister of Tourism and CEO of the Tourism Promotion Board in Mexico between 2010 and 2012. She also succeeded in developing the tourism sector in the country and strengthening Mexico’s position as a leading global tourist destination.


The purpose of this regional office

The mission of the UNWTO regional office in Riyadh will be to coordinate policies and initiatives geared towards sustainable tourism across 13 countries in the Middle East. It will also promote tourism products and sustainable development.


It will collect important statistics for the sector and exchange information, in addition to stimulating investment in tourism assets and constituents. It will also be working to define policies related to health aspects in the tourism industry.


UNWTO celebrated the first-ever tourism academy in Riyadh dedicated to catering to the needs of the Middle East. It launched a program to acknowledge the best tourism villages.


According to Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the UNWTO – in a speech at the Tourism Recovery Summit 2021 in Riyadh — one of the priorities of this UN organization is to create new jobs and new tourist destinations. He said that this new regional office is a ray of hope to many people, as the restart of the tourism industry needs leadership and coordination.


The organization’s other priorities include supporting businesses, helping protect nature and cultural heritage, fighting depopulation and regional inequalities, and empowering people and communities. The office was constructed in eight months during the pandemic, he said.


How does it affect the rest of the world?

The UNWTO regional office in Riyadh aims to build human and institutional capacity across the pandemic-battered sector, Al-Khateeb said on the sidelines of the Tourism Recovery Summit.


In his words, the global tourism sector is unstable and inflexible, as shown by the pandemic. Many people lost their jobs as companies left the work system. He proposed that since the tourism sector is mostly privately owned all around the globe, each nation needs to rebuild a tourism industry that is flexible enough to weather such a crisis.


The new regional office in Riyadh will enable the UNWTO to create a flexible tourism industry for the Middle East and parts of North Africa. It aims to unify efforts from multiple countries to create a global protocol that benefits as many nations as possible.


The EU came under sharp criticism for developing a unilateral protocol for solo travel for the next summer. This they did without any input or coordination with other countries. He said that the tourism sector is one global sector that needs a unified protocol to facilitate travel.


This collaboration of Saudi Arabia and the UNWTO is the best effort to merge multiple efforts to bring the global tourism industry back on its feet. These measures are dedicated specifically to supporting global tourism growth and foster the capability to rebuild a damaged industry.


Take advantage

You can take advantage of the immense business potential created by the coming up of the UNWTO regional office in Saudi Arabia by partnering with experienced and professional lawyers well-versed in both local and international law. Contact HMCO today to begin the conversation.