World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

UNWTO: Promoting Global Travel and Sustainable Tourism

World Tourism Organization is a special agency of the United Nations, promotes sustainable and responsible tourism. Headquartered in Madrid, Spain, it facilitates international aid, sets tourism policies, and advocates for tourism as a tool for economic development, cultural exchange, and environmental conservation.



The UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1975 and headquartered in Madrid, Spain. It serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and a practical source of tourism know-how. In this detailed article by Academic Block, we will explore how UNWTO plays a crucial role in promoting responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism.

History and Evolution

The roots of UNWTO can be traced back to 1925 with the establishment of the International Congress of Official Tourist Traffic Associations in The Hague, Netherlands. This organization eventually evolved into the International Union of Official Travel Organizations (IUOTO) in 1945. The IUOTO operated independently until 1968 when it became affiliated with the United Nations as a semi-autonomous body.

In 1975, the IUOTO transformed into the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), following the ratification of its Statutes by the United Nations General Assembly. Since then, UNWTO has expanded its role and influence in global tourism, adapting to the changing dynamics and challenges facing the industry.

Objectives and Mandate

UNWTO’s primary objectives include promoting and developing sustainable tourism, fostering awareness of the social, cultural, environmental, and economic impact of tourism, and providing leadership and support to the tourism sector worldwide. The organization seeks to facilitate international cooperation and coordinate efforts among nations to maximize the benefits of tourism while minimizing its negative impacts.

UNWTO’s mandate covers a wide range of activities, including policy development, research and analysis, technical assistance and capacity building, promotion of education and training in tourism, and advocacy for tourism as a tool for development and poverty alleviation.

Structure and Governance

UNWTO operates under the oversight of its General Assembly, which meets every two years and consists of representatives from its member states. The Assembly sets the organization’s policies, approves its budget, and elects its Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is responsible for the day-to-day operations of UNWTO and is appointed for a four-year term.

The Executive Council, composed of elected member states, acts as the governing body between General Assembly sessions. It reviews and approves the organization’s work program and budget, provides guidance on strategic priorities, and ensures accountability and transparency in UNWTO’s operations.

Membership and Global Reach

UNWTO membership is open to UN member states, territories, and associate members, as well as international and regional organizations and corporations involved in tourism. As of [current year], UNWTO has [number] member states, making it one of the largest international organizations in terms of membership.

The organization operates through a network of regional offices and affiliates around the world, allowing it to address regional and local tourism issues effectively. These offices promote collaboration among member states, facilitate technical assistance projects, and disseminate best practices in sustainable tourism development.

Key Initiatives and Programs

UNWTO implements numerous initiatives and programs to achieve its objectives and promote sustainable tourism development globally. These initiatives address various aspects of tourism, including environmental sustainability, cultural heritage preservation, tourism statistics and research, tourism education and training, and tourism as a driver of economic growth and development.

One of UNWTO’s flagship programs is the Sustainable Tourism for Development Program, which aims to mainstream sustainability principles into tourism policies, practices, and operations worldwide. This program includes capacity-building workshops, policy advice, and technical assistance to help member states integrate sustainability into their tourism strategies.

Sustainable Tourism Development

Sustainable tourism development is a cornerstone of UNWTO’s agenda. The organization defines sustainable tourism as tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.

UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism through guidelines, standards, and certification schemes, such as the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and the Tourism Satellite Account, which measures the economic contribution of tourism to national economies. These initiatives help governments, tourism businesses, and local communities manage tourism growth responsibly and ensure its long-term benefits.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite its benefits, tourism faces several challenges, including over-tourism, environmental degradation, cultural commodification, and economic leakage. UNWTO works to address these challenges through policy advocacy, capacity building, and technical assistance, encouraging sustainable tourism practices that balance economic growth with environmental and social responsibility.

At the same time, tourism presents significant opportunities for economic development, job creation, poverty alleviation, and cultural exchange. UNWTO promotes inclusive tourism policies that benefit local communities and contribute to sustainable development goals, harnessing tourism’s potential as a tool for poverty reduction and socioeconomic empowerment.

Impact of COVID-19 on Global Tourism

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on global tourism, leading to travel restrictions, border closures, and a sharp decline in international tourist arrivals. UNWTO responded swiftly to the crisis, providing policy guidance to member states, monitoring the impact of the pandemic on tourism, and advocating for coordinated responses to support the sector’s recovery.

The pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities of tourism and underscored the importance of resilience and sustainability in tourism development. UNWTO continues to work with its member states and international partners to rebuild tourism in a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable manner, ensuring that tourism contributes to global recovery and sustainable development goals.

Future Directions and Strategic Priorities

Looking ahead, UNWTO faces new challenges and opportunities in the evolving landscape of global tourism. The organization is committed to advancing its strategic priorities, including promoting innovation and digital transformation in tourism, enhancing tourism resilience and crisis preparedness, promoting cultural and natural heritage conservation, and mainstreaming sustainability across the tourism value chain.

UNWTO will continue to advocate for policies that maximize tourism’s benefits while minimizing its negative impacts, foster international cooperation and collaboration, and support member states in harnessing the full potential of tourism as a driver of sustainable development and inclusive growth.

Final Words

In conclusion, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) plays a crucial role in promoting responsible, sustainable, and inclusive tourism development globally. Since its establishment, UNWTO has evolved into a key international organization, facilitating dialogue, cooperation, and knowledge sharing among its member states and stakeholders in the tourism sector.

As global tourism faces new challenges and opportunities, UNWTO remains committed to advancing its mandate, promoting sustainable tourism practices, and ensuring that tourism contributes to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through its initiatives, programs, and advocacy efforts, UNWTO continues to be a driving force for positive change in the tourism industry, advocating for policies and practices that benefit communities, protect cultural and natural heritage, and foster economic growth and development worldwide. Hope you enjoyed reading with Academic Block, please provide your insightful thoughts to make this article better. Thanks for Reading!

This Article will answer your questions like:

+ What is the role of the World Tourism Organization? >

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for promoting responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism. It provides leadership and support to the tourism sector in advancing knowledge and tourism policies worldwide.

+ What is the UNWTO definition of tourism? >

The UNWTO defines tourism as the activities of people traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business, and other purposes, excluding activities remunerated from within the place visited.

+ What are the benefits of UNWTO? >

The benefits of UNWTO include providing a global platform for tourism cooperation, offering data and research on tourism trends, promoting sustainable tourism practices, supporting tourism development in developing countries, and fostering international tourism policies and standards.

+ Are WTO and UNWTO the same? >

No, the WTO (World Trade Organization) and UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) are different entities. The WTO focuses on global trade rules and agreements, while the UNWTO specializes in promoting and developing sustainable and accessible tourism worldwide.

+ What is the new name of the UNWTO? >

The World Tourism Organization is commonly known by its acronym, UNWTO. There has been no recent change to its name.

+ Where is the UNWTO headquarters located? >

The headquarters of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is located in Madrid, Spain. It has been based there since its establishment as a UN specialized agency.

+ How does the UNWTO promote sustainable tourism? >

UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism through initiatives such as the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, providing guidelines for responsible tourism practices, supporting eco-friendly tourism projects, and fostering community-based tourism that benefits local populations and preserves cultural and natural heritage.

+ Who is the current Secretary-General of UNWTO? >

As of the latest update, the current Secretary-General of UNWTO is Zurab Pololikashvili, who has held the position since January 2018. He is responsible for overseeing the organization's work and promoting global tourism development.

+ How does UNWTO support tourism development? >

UNWTO supports tourism development by providing technical assistance, capacity-building programs, and policy advice to member states. It also conducts research and compiles tourism statistics, helping countries develop sustainable tourism strategies and enhance their tourism sectors.

+ What is the role of UNWTO in global tourism policy? >

UNWTO plays a crucial role in global tourism policy by providing a platform for international dialogue, setting global standards, advocating for tourism's role in economic development and sustainability, and assisting countries in formulating and implementing effective tourism policies.

+ What impact did COVID-19 have on UNWTO and global tourism? >

COVID-19 severely impacted global tourism, leading to unprecedented declines in international travel and tourism revenue. UNWTO responded by providing guidance for recovery, promoting safe travel protocols, supporting tourism resilience, and advocating for policies to revitalize the tourism sector post-pandemic.

Role of UNWTO

Policy Development: UNWTO plays a pivotal role in shaping international tourism policies by providing guidance and setting standards that member states can adopt to promote sustainable tourism development.

Advocacy and Awareness: It advocates for tourism as a driver of economic growth, job creation, and sustainable development. UNWTO raises awareness about the social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts of tourism.

Research and Knowledge Sharing: UNWTO conducts research, collects data, and disseminates information about global tourism trends, statistics, and best practices. This knowledge supports evidence-based decision-making in tourism policy and planning.

Capacity Building: UNWTO provides technical assistance, training programs, and workshops to enhance the capacity of member states to manage tourism sustainably. It promotes education and professional development in tourism-related fields.

Promotion of Ethics and Standards: UNWTO promotes the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, which aims to minimize the negative impacts of tourism on cultural heritage, local communities, and the environment. It encourages adherence to ethical principles in tourism operations.

Crisis Management and Resilience: UNWTO supports member states in managing crises affecting tourism, such as natural disasters or health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. It advocates for resilience-building measures and recovery strategies for the tourism sector.

Partnerships and Collaboration: UNWTO fosters collaboration among governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society to address common tourism challenges and opportunities. It facilitates dialogue and cooperation at regional and global levels.

Ways in which UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism

Development of Guidelines and Standards

UNWTO develops and promotes guidelines, principles, and standards for sustainable tourism practices. These include:

  • Global Code of Ethics for Tourism: A set of principles designed to guide stakeholders in the tourism sector towards ethical and responsible behavior. It encourages respect for cultural diversity, protection of natural and cultural heritage, and sustainable economic activities.
  • Criteria for Sustainable Tourism: UNWTO collaborates with other organizations to establish criteria and certification schemes that recognize tourism businesses and destinations adhering to sustainable practices.

Capacity Building and Technical Assistance

UNWTO provides technical assistance, capacity-building workshops, and training programs to help governments, tourism businesses, and local communities integrate sustainable practices into their tourism operations. Key initiatives include:

  • Sustainable Tourism for Development Program: This program offers training and capacity-building activities to enhance the ability of tourism stakeholders to implement sustainable tourism policies and practices.
  • Tourism Satellite Account (TSA): UNWTO supports the development of TSAs in member states, which measure the contribution of tourism to national economies and provide data for sustainable tourism planning.

Research and Knowledge Sharing

UNWTO conducts research, collects data, and shares knowledge on sustainable tourism practices, trends, and impacts. This information supports evidence-based decision-making and policy development in tourism. Key research areas include:

  • Tourism Trends and Statistics: UNWTO publishes reports and studies on global tourism trends, including sustainable tourism indicators and best practices.
  • Case Studies and Best Practices: UNWTO disseminates case studies and best practices from around the world to showcase successful examples of sustainable tourism development.

Advocacy and Policy Advice

UNWTO advocates for policies and initiatives that promote sustainable tourism development at national, regional, and international levels. It provides policy advice to member states on integrating sustainability into tourism policies and strategies. Key advocacy efforts include:

  • Policy Dialogue: UNWTO facilitates dialogue among governments, international organizations, and the private sector to promote sustainable tourism policies and initiatives.
  • Policy Recommendations: UNWTO issues recommendations and guidelines to member states on addressing challenges such as over-tourism, climate change impacts, and cultural preservation.

Promoting Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation

UNWTO emphasizes the importance of preserving and promoting cultural and natural heritage as part of sustainable tourism development. It encourages responsible tourism practices that respect and enhance cultural diversity and environmental conservation. Initiatives include:

  • Cultural Tourism Development: UNWTO supports initiatives that promote cultural tourism while safeguarding cultural heritage and traditions.
  • Ecotourism and Biodiversity Conservation: UNWTO promotes ecotourism as a sustainable tourism option that contributes to biodiversity conservation and supports local communities.

Addressing Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability

UNWTO addresses the impacts of climate change on tourism and promotes measures to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism activities. It encourages sustainable practices such as energy efficiency, waste management, and water conservation in tourism operations. Initiatives include:

  • Climate Neutral Tourism Initiative: UNWTO promotes strategies for achieving carbon neutrality in tourism operations and destinations.
  • Green Tourism Practices: UNWTO supports initiatives that minimize environmental impacts, such as sustainable transportation options and eco-friendly accommodation.

Crisis Management and Resilience Building

UNWTO assists member states in managing tourism crises, such as natural disasters or health emergencies, by providing guidance and support for resilient tourism recovery strategies. It advocates for preparedness and risk management measures to mitigate the impact of crises on tourism.

Academic References on the UNWTO

  1. Buhalis, D., & Darcy, S. (Eds.). (2011). Tourism management dynamics: Trends, management and tools. Butterworth-Heinemann.
  2. Butler, R. W. (Ed.). (2006). The tourism area life cycle, Vol. 1: Applications and modifications. Channel View Publications.
  3. Crouch, G. I., & Ritchie, J. R. B. (1999). Tourism, competitiveness, and societal prosperity. Journal of Business Research, 44(3), 137-152.
  4. Hall, C. M., & Page, S. J. (Eds.). (2014). The geography of tourism and recreation: Environment, place and space (4th ed.). Routledge.
  5. Huang, Y. C. (2017). Global tourism higher education: Past, present, and future. Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism, 17(2), 93-108.
  6. Inskeep, E. (1991). Tourism planning: An integrated and sustainable development approach. Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  7. Mowforth, M., & Munt, I. (2015). Tourism and sustainability: Development, globalisation and new tourism in the Third World (4th ed.). Routledge.
  8. Prideaux, B., & Cooper, M. (Eds.). (2009). Progress in tourism marketing. Elsevier.
  9. Ritchie, B. W., & Crouch, G. I. (2003). The competitive destination: A sustainable tourism perspective. CABI Publishing.
  10. Ryan, C. (2003). Recasting the tourist: Authenticity, heritage, and tourism in Ireland. Channel View Publications.
  11. Tribe, J. (2009). The economics of recreation, leisure and tourism (4th ed.). Elsevier.
  12. UNWTO. (2020). Global report on food tourism. World Tourism Organization.
  13. UNWTO. (2021). Tourism and culture synergy for sustainable development. World Tourism Organization.
  14. Vanhove, N. (Ed.). (2011). The economics of tourism destinations. Elsevier.

Headquarter: Madrid, Spain

Founded in: November 01, 1975

Member States: 160 member states

Head: Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili


Benefits of UNWTO

Promotion of Sustainable Tourism:

  • Guidance and Standards: UNWTO provides guidelines and standards for sustainable tourism development, helping countries implement practices that minimize environmental impact, preserve cultural heritage, and benefit local communities.
  • Capacity Building: UNWTO offers technical assistance, training programs, and workshops to enhance the capacity of governments and tourism stakeholders in sustainable tourism practices.
  • Research and Knowledge Sharing: UNWTO conducts research, collects data, and shares knowledge on sustainable tourism practices and trends, supporting evidence-based decision-making in tourism policy.

Advocacy and Policy Development:

  • Global Advocacy: UNWTO advocates for tourism as a key driver of economic growth, job creation, and development, promoting policies that maximize the socio-economic benefits of tourism while minimizing negative impacts.
  • Policy Advice: UNWTO provides policy advice to member states on tourism-related issues, helping to shape national and international policies that support sustainable tourism development.

Crisis Management and Resilience:

  • Support during Crises: UNWTO assists member states in managing tourism crises, such as natural disasters or health emergencies, by providing guidance, sharing best practices, and coordinating international responses to minimize the impact on tourism.
  • Resilience Building: UNWTO promotes resilience-building measures in tourism destinations, helping communities and businesses recover quickly from crises and build long-term sustainability.

Promotion of Cultural Exchange and Understanding:

  • Cultural Heritage Preservation: UNWTO promotes the preservation and sustainable management of cultural heritage sites and traditions, ensuring that tourism contributes positively to cultural exchange and understanding.
  • Tourism and Peace: UNWTO highlights the role of tourism in fostering peace, tolerance, and mutual understanding among peoples and cultures through travel experiences and intercultural dialogue.

Economic Development and Job Creation:

  • Economic Impact: Tourism contributes significantly to national economies, and UNWTO promotes policies that harness tourism’s economic potential to create jobs, stimulate entrepreneurship, and diversify local economies.
  • Poverty Alleviation: UNWTO advocates for inclusive tourism development that benefits marginalized communities, helping to reduce poverty and promote sustainable livelihoods through tourism-related activities.

Global Networking and Collaboration:

  • Platform for Collaboration: UNWTO serves as a global forum for governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society to collaborate on tourism issues, fostering partnerships and sharing experiences and resources.
  • Regional and Local Support: UNWTO operates regional offices and collaborates with local stakeholders to address specific tourism challenges and opportunities at regional and local levels.

Ethical Tourism Practices:

  • Global Code of Ethics: UNWTO promotes ethical tourism practices through its Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, which encourages stakeholders to respect cultural diversity, protect natural and cultural heritage, and promote fair and equitable tourism practices.

Ways in which UNWTO supports tourism development

Policy Advocacy and Guidance: UNWTO provides policy recommendations and guidance to member states on sustainable tourism development, helping them create conducive environments for tourism growth.

Capacity Building: UNWTO conducts training programs and workshops to enhance the skills of tourism professionals and stakeholders, thereby improving the quality of tourism services and management.

Research and Knowledge Sharing: UNWTO conducts research on tourism trends, statistics, and best practices, sharing this knowledge with member states to inform their decision-making and strategic planning.

Promotion of Sustainable Practices: UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism practices that minimize negative impacts on the environment, culture, and local communities while maximizing economic benefits.

Support for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): UNWTO supports SMEs in the tourism sector by providing technical assistance, access to finance, and opportunities for networking and collaboration.

Crisis Management and Resilience Building: UNWTO assists member states in managing crises and building resilience in the tourism sector, such as through crisis preparedness plans and recovery strategies.

Global Advocacy and Partnership: UNWTO advocates for tourism as a driver of socio-economic development at the global level and collaborates with international organizations, governments, and private sector entities to advance tourism agendas.

Role of UNWTO in Global Tourism Policy

Setting International Standards: UNWTO develops and promotes international standards and guidelines for sustainable tourism development, helping countries align their policies with global best practices.

Policy Advocacy: UNWTO advocates for tourism as a driver of economic growth, job creation, and sustainable development on the global stage. It works to influence policies and decision-making processes at international forums and among member states.

Capacity Building: UNWTO provides technical assistance and capacity-building programs to member states to strengthen their institutional and human resource capacities in tourism policy formulation, implementation, and monitoring.

Research and Data Analysis: UNWTO conducts research, collects data, and publishes reports on tourism trends, statistics, and impact assessments. This information helps shape evidence-based policies and strategies at national and international levels.

Promotion of Sustainable Tourism: UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism practices and initiatives worldwide, encouraging member states to integrate sustainability principles into their tourism policies and operations.

Crisis Management and Resilience Building: UNWTO assists member states in developing crisis management plans and strategies to mitigate risks and enhance resilience in the tourism sector, particularly during emergencies and natural disasters.

Capacity for Governance and Institutional Strengthening: UNWTO supports member states in strengthening governance frameworks and institutions related to tourism policy, ensuring effective coordination and collaboration among stakeholders.

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