World Tourism Organization

World Tourism Organization

World Tourism Organization

Organisation Mondiale du Tourisme (French)
Abbreviation UNWTO
Formation 1975
Type Specialized agency
Legal status Active
Headquarters Madrid, Spain
Taleb Rifai & AB
Parent organization
United Nations
Website UNWTO website

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. It is the leading international organization in the field of tourism, which promotes tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability and offers leadership and support to the sector in advancing knowledge and tourism policies worldwide. It encourages the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism [1] to maximize the contribution of tourism to socio-economic development, while minimizing its possible negative impacts, and is committed to promoting tourism as an instrument in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), geared towards reducing poverty and fostering sustainable development.

UNWTO generates market knowledge, promotes competitive and sustainable tourism policies and instruments, fosters tourism education and training, and works to make tourism an effective tool for development through technical assistance projects in over 100 countries around the world.

UNWTO’s membership includes 157 countries, 6 territories and over 500 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities. Its headquarters are located in Madrid.[2]

Organizational aims

UNWTO headquarters Madrid

The objectives of the UNWTO are to promote and develop sustainable tourism so as to contribute to economic development, international understanding, peace, prosperity and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. In pursuing these aims, UNWTO pays particular attention to the interests of developing countries in the field of tourism.[3]


The origin of UNWTO stems back to 1920 when the International Congress of Official Tourist Traffic Associations (ICOTT) was formed at The Hague. Some articles from early volumes of the Annals of Tourism Research,[4] claim that the UNWTO originated from the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations (IUOTPO), although the UNWTO states that the ICOTT became the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations first in 1934.

Following the end of the Second World War and with international travel numbers increasing, the IUOTPO restructured itself into the International Union of Official Travel Organizations (IUOTO). A technical, non-governmental organization, the IUOTO was made up of a combination of national tourist organizations, industry and consumer groups. The goals and objectives of the IUOTO were to not only promote tourism in general but also to extract the best out of tourism as an international trade component and as an economic development strategy for developing nations.[4]

Towards the end of the 1960s, the IUOTO realized the need for further transformation to enhance its role on an international level. The 20th IUOTO general assembly in Tokyo, 1967, declared the need for the creation of an intergovernmental body with the necessary abilities to function on an international level in cooperation with other international agencies, in particular the United Nations. Throughout the existence of the IUOTO, close ties had been established between the organization and the United Nations (UN) and initial suggestions had the IUOTO becoming part of the UN. However, following the circulation of a draft convention, consensus held that any resultant intergovernmental organization should be closely linked to the UN but preserve its "complete administrative and financial autonomy".[5]

It was on the recommendations of the UN that the formation of the new intergovernmental tourism organization was based. Resolution 2529 of the XXIVth UN general assembly stated:

In 1970, the IUOTO general assembly voted in favor of forming the World Tourism Organization (WTO).[6] Based on statutes of the IUOTO, and after ratification by the prescribed 51 states, the WTO came into operation on November 1, 1974.

Most recently, at the fifteenth general assembly in 2003, the WTO general council and the UN agreed to establish the WTO as a specialized agency of the UN. The significance of this collaboration, WTO Secretary-General Mr. Francesco Frangialli claimed, would lie in "the increased visibility it gives the WTO, and the recognition that will be accorded to [it]. Tourism will be considered on an equal footing with other major activities of human society".[7]


  UNWTO member states
  UNWTO associates
  UNWTO observers
UNWTO member states sorted by their regions

As of 2013, the membership of the UNWTO included 156 states,[8] six associate members (Flemish Community (1997), Puerto Rico (2002), Aruba (1987), Hong Kong (1999), Macau (1981), Madeira (1995)),[9] and two observers (Holy See (1979), Palestine (1999)). Seventeen state members have withdrawn from the organization for different periods in the past: Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Kuwait, Malaysia, Myanmar, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Thailand and Puerto Rico (as an associate member). Most of them have rejoined. The Netherland Antilles was an associate member before its dissolution.

Former members are: Belgium (until 1997), Canada (until 2012),[10] Grenada (until 1997) and Latvia (2005-2012) [11]

Non-members are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Comoros, Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States.

Additionally there are some 400 affiliate members, representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities, non-governmental entities with specialised interests in tourism, and commercial and non-commercial bodies and associations with activities related to the aims of UNWTO or falling within its competence.


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


General Assembly

The General Assembly is the principal gathering of the World Tourism Organization. It meets every two years to approve the budget and programme of work and to debate topics of vital importance to the tourism sector. Every four years it elects a Secretary-General. The General Assembly is composed of full members and associate members. Affiliate members and representatives of other international organizations participate as observers. The World Committee on Tourism Ethics is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.[12]

Executive Council

The Executive Council is UNWTO's governing board, responsible for ensuring that the Organization carries out its work and adheres to its budget. It meets at least twice a year and is composed of members elected by the General Assembly in a ratio of one for every five full members. As host country of UNWTO's headquarters, Spain has a permanent seat on the Executive Council. Representatives of the associate members and affiliate members participate in Executive Council meetings as observers.[13]


Specialized committees of UNWTO members advise on management and programme content. These include: the Programme Committee, the Committee on Budget and Finance, the Committee on Statistics and the Tourism Satellite Account, the Committee on Market and Competitiveness, the Sustainable Development of Tourism Committee, the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, the Committee on Poverty Reduction and the Committee for the Review of applications for affiliate membership.[14]


The Secretariat is led by Secretary-General Taleb Rifai of Jordan, who supervises about 110 full-time staff at UNWTO's Madrid headquarters. These officials are responsible for implementing UNWTO's programme of work and serving the needs of members. The affiliate members are supported by a full-time Executive Director at the Madrid headquarters. The Secretariat also includes a regional support office for Asia-Pacific in Osaka, Japan, financed by the Japanese Government. The official languages of UNWTO are Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.[15]


Key tourism statistics


  1. "Global Code of Ethics for Tourism". World Tourism Organization. Retrieved 17 December 2014. External link in |website= (help)
  2. "Where we are". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  3. Statutes of UNWTO
  4. 1 2 Jafari, Creation of the intergovernmental world tourism oration
  5. Jafari, Creation of the intergovernmental world tourism organization, 241
  6. "The Postal History of ICAO". Retrieved 17 December 2014. External link in |website= (help)
  7. World Tourism Organization, WTO news, 2003, 3
  8. "Member States". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  9. territories or groups of territories not responsible for their external relations but whose membership is approved by the state assuming responsibility for their external relations.
  10. Lizzy Davies. "Canada quits UN tourism body over Mugabe appointment". the Guardian. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  11. The Baltic Course - Балтийский курс. "Saeima approves of Latvia's withdrawal from World Tourism Organization". The Baltic Course - Baltic States news & analytics. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  12. "General Assembly". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  13. "Executive Council". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  14. "Committees". Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  15. "Chinese to become official language of World Tourism Organization". Minsk: Belarusian Telegraph Agency. 2012-12-12. Retrieved 2012-12-19.


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