- UNWTO, in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Tourism, launches first-ever regional office in Riyadh
- New office will serve as a coordinating hub across 13 countries in the Middle East
- Initiative marks new direction for the coordination of global tourism with regional collaboration spearheading the approach
- Best Tourism Villages of the World certification announced as one of the first initiatives driven by the office
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 26 May 2021
The first United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) regional office was officially opened today in Riyadh by UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili and the Saudi Minister for Tourism, His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb at an event attended by regional tourism ministers and industry leaders.
The new office will serve as a hub for UNWTO to coordinate policy and initiatives across thirteen countries in the Middle East, acting as a pivotal forum for engagement to drive tourism initiatives in the region and build long-term growth for the sector.
The office will lead UNWTO’s work across the region, promoting tourism products, sustainable development and the collection of tourism data and analysis. Responding to a need for locally relevant initiatives to drive effective change, the office will champion investment in tourism assets and capabilities, and spearhead regional collaboration in data-sharing and health policy.
His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, Saudi Minister for Tourism, in a keynote address pledged continued support to the UNWTO and the development of global tourism.
“As the first UNWTO office of its kind, the Riyadh office will serve as a beacon for regional collaboration. We are thrilled to host the office in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “During Saudi’s Presidency of last year’s G20, we took the opportunity to host the first ever T20 meeting. At that meeting we committed to work with our partners around the world in developing a strong industry based on the principles of sustainability and opportunities for all. The establishment of this office is a continuation of that commitment.”
“The launch of UNWTO’s first ever regional office is a landmark event and signals a new direction for the coordination of global tourism, with regional collaboration at the heart of the approach,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary General. “This new initiative recognizes that alignment on the regional level is key to unlocking the Middle East’s vast tourism potential and creating social, economic and environmental resiliency for the sector and its people. We expect that this will be recognised as a model for future efforts to make the benefits of tourism available to all,”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism is hosting and supporting the regional office as part of a long-standing partnership between the Ministry and UNWTO. Together, the two organizations have taken a leading role throughout the global COVID-19 health crisis to shape recovery strategies for the travel and tourism sector. This new initiative delivers on the commitments made during Saudi’s Presidency of the G20 and outlined in the AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development and the Diriyah Communique.
A key initiative within the new office will be the development of an international tourism academy dedicated to supporting the ambitions of a new generation of tourism leaders. During his remarks at the office opening, H.E. Ahmed Al Khateeb outlined the vision for the new Academy.
“In partnership with UNWTO, we will create the world’s greatest multi-cultural and immersive learning environment, a leading global center of excellence that redefines tourism and hospitality education,” he said. “The international tourism academy in Riyadh will be a place where faculty and students can discover, create and share knowledge to achieve long-lasting impact on the global tourism and hospitality industry.”
As a first step in the development of the Academy, the Ministry has signed an agreement to use the existing UNWTO Tourism Online Academy as a platform to create and disseminate training programs in Saudi Arabia.
At the ceremony, Zurab Pololikashvili also announced the launch of a new UNWTO certification to recognise the Best Tourism Villages of the World. The regional implementation of this initiative will be among the first programs to be coordinated out of the new office. The initiative, which will open for submissions later this year, will recognize outstanding rural tourism destinations committed to sustainability, by celebrating their natural landscape, traditional social structure and agricultural diversity.
“Tourism has an unparalleled capacity to support thriving communities at every level of society,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, “The Best Tourism Villages of the World certification will be instrumental in protecting and celebrating unique local traditions and creating opportunities for the genuine, meaningful cultural exchange that is at the heart of the tourism experience.”
About Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of tourism is one of three key elements of the Saudi Tourism ecosystem, alongside the Saudi Tourism Authority and the Tourism Development Fund.
The Ministry sets the Kingdom’s tourism sector strategy, and is responsible for the development of policies and regulations, developing human capital, gathering statistics, and attracting investment. It works in partnership with the Saudi Tourism Authority, which promotes Saudi Arabia as a global tourism destination, and the Tourism Development Fund, which executes the Ministry’s investment strategy and supports the provision of funding for the sector’s development.
Headed by His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, the Ministry was founded in February 2020, following the opening of Saudi Arabia to international tourists for the first time in its history in 2019. Saudi Arabia aims to welcome 100 million tourism visits by 2030, increasing the sector’s contribution to GDP from 3% to 10%.
About the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations specialized agency fostering tourism as a vehicle for equal, inclusive and sustainable development. Working with its Member States, international organizations and the private sector, UNWTO promotes safe and seamless travel for all. UNWTO also works to make tourism the foundation of trust and international cooperation and a central pillar of recovery. As part of the wider UN system, UNWTO is at the forefront of global efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including through its ability to create decent jobs, promote equality and preserve natural and cultural heritage.