Saint Petersburg : Tourism ministers, public and private sector leaders and key decision makers gathered at St Petersburg to meet for the 23rd Session of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), held between September 9 and 13.
Guided by UNWTO, tourism has emerged as a key pillar of the Sustainable Development Agenda, identified as a powerful driver of economic growth, job creation and the preservation and promotion of cultural and natural heritage.
Reflecting the importance of the General Assembly, more than 1,100 participants --including 65 ministers and vice ministers of tourism and 31 secretaries of state-attended the meeting.
Top of the agenda for the 23rd Session of the General Assembly was the approval of the Secretary-General's vision for a larger but more sustainable organisation with a greater focus on tourism's role in education and job creation, as well as on the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in making global tourism more inclusive and sustainable.
Ahead of the General Assembly, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO said, "Tourism is undoubtedly a leading economic sector of our time. Tourism not only supports millions of jobs worldwide, it also helps urban and rural economies and promotes peace and understanding between peoples. This General Assembly reflects the importance of our sector and I look forward to welcoming leaders from around the world and working with them to identify ways tourism can continue to be a global force for good."
The 23rd Session of the UNWTO General Assembly was held at several of St Petersburg's most prestigious venues, including the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Catherine Palace and the Mariinsky Theatre.
Prior to the event, UNWTO's Affiliate Members met in the Russian city. The special Plenary Session for Affiliate Members highlighted the important role the private sector, in addition to civil society and academia, can play in helping UNWTO fulfil its mission to guide the tourism sector's growth in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Dr Taleb Rifai denied access
"You are not invited to the UNWTO General Assembly 2019 in Saint Petersburg", was the clear message by Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of UNWTO to his predecessor Dr Taleb Rifai.
The much-respected former Jordanian SG takes this surprising move by the current UNWTO leadership with dignity.
This UNWTO administration broke a tradition held ever since UNWTO started embracing former secretary generals at such a key event.
Dr Taleb Rifai was the UNWTO Secretary-General from 2010 to 2017. Many remember his moving speech and heartfelt welcome he gave to Zurab Pololikashvili, when the Georgian candidate was elected in 2018 at the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, China.
Dr Taleb Rifai was not invited to the 2019 General Assembly. Yet, he, himself, announced the venue for it - St. Petersburg, Russia.