On March 17th, 2017, the UNWTO officially released the names of countries putting forward their respective nationals as candidates for the position of Secretary General of the UNWTO. Seven candidates were announced: Armenia, Brazil, Colombia, Georgia, Republic of Korea, Seychelles, Zimbabwe. As stated by the UNWTO’s, the seven represented “candidatures complete and duly accompanied by the required documents (letter of the candidate, curriculum vitae, statement of policy and management intent and a certificate of good health signed by a recognized medical facility), along with the letter of support from the Government of the country endorsing a candidate.”
Seeing the list of candidates, many found themselves intrigued. Some of the names were familiar, others not. Some names were surprises. Some absences on the list were even more surprising.
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One noted absence for the post of Secretary General: Carlos Vogeler, an assumed candidate to be put forward by the government of Spain. The UNWTO’s highly respected, greatly experienced, and well liked UNWTO Executive Director for Member Relations and Regional Director of the Americas and, formerly Chairman of the UNWTO Affiliate Members; Vogeler was deemed a natural name on the list.
Instead, his name appears as Deputy to the Republic of Korea’s candidate: Ambassador Dho Young-shim, known by many by name, but perhaps not so much by personality.
How did this happen? Why would Vogeler pass on the possibility to be Secretary General, instead choosing a supporting role to a candidate not immediately thought of as a front runner?
In a recent interview with Vogeler, the thoughtfulness of his actions was clear: he knew it was the right thing to do for the future of the UNWTO, and the future of the global tourism industry, because in his firm opinion Dho is the rightful next Secretary General.
“I know that some people think Dho is not necessarily the most sympathetic or jovial person you can imagine, that she might appear as not the easiest person to get close to. But I have discovered through my own interaction with her over the years in the UNWTO, and now in this campaigning process, who she really is – her commitment to the UNWTO, her genuine concern for all Members, and for the good of tourism as a vehicle for development. Even her humour. Many people judging, simply didn’t have the opportunity of knowing her and seeing her passion, energy and love for the organization and the tourism sector as the best instrument to make this a better world. They haven’t seen the amazing work that she has carried out in developing countries, mainly in Africa, to improve people’s lives and the love she receives when she visits. I have seen that, as well as her work across the wider UN system in both developed and developing countries as MDG and SDG advocate of the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and believe me there is no one more qualified, ready and determined to take UNWTO forward. She is a very dynamic person and delivers what she promises”
But why not Vogeler?
“Was I encouraged to put myself forward? Of course. Was I approached by other candidates to be a running mate? Absolutely. I thought very hard about my decision. I have a long professional career in the private sector and academia, and in the last 8 years I have put my past experience in practice at UNWTO and it has been the most gratifying exercise. My now being inside the Organisation made it clear to me what needs to happen next to make sure that tourism holds a seat at the top table of global development decision-making, as a lead sector, building on the exceptional work that Taleb Rifai has done for the image and appreciation of tourism outside of tourism, both with governments and business. As much as I could offer the UNWTO, it is important to return to the traditional structure of a head and a deputy, not only to ensure stability, but also to strengthen the resources at the professional level of the organisation. In my view, together we can take even further the great legacy received. Ours is a very serious and solid “ticket”. Believe me, it is not so much about being number 1 or number 2, it is not about us, and our personal interest or ambitions, it is really about bringing a clear and light management structure, with geopolitical and gender balance, and the type of leadership that the organization needs in these challenging times. Dho has the experience, vision and networks to lift the UNWTO within the wider UN system, and other international bodies, to give it the status, support and funding it needs to stepchange what the Organisation can do for our member states, and I want to help and support that.”
Is there not a risk in associating with a lower profile candidate?
“Listen, I took this decision seriously. My credibility is on the line. Never would I take such a position lightly. I am partnering with Dho because I have the information and direct experience with her to know she is the right person for right now. I have seen her passion, honesty and commitment to the UNWTO first-hand. No one else can offer her expertise, bold vision, network, and scope of resources to the UNWTO. I am confident that people who know and trust me will trust my judgment and look closely at what Dho can offer as the next Secretary General. And try to get to know her as a person. You will be as pleasantly surprised as I was.”
At the end of the day, it is not up to the global tourism community to decide the next leader of the UNWTO. It is up to thirty-three members of the UNWTO Executive Council who, this May at its 105th session in Madrid, Spain, will recommend successor to Rifai, as he ends his final term as Secretary General. Ratification is set for September at the 22nd UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu, China.
For all candidates, competition is into high gear, with each candidate showcasing not just their vision and qualifications for the top job, but their character, in their own way. Having seen the different approaches being taken by candidates to lobby for votes, Vogeler is even more convinced that Dho is the right choice come May’s Executive Council meeting.
“At this point in my professional career, I am not going to gamble with the future of the organisation, or the sector. I understand the enormity of the responsibility of Executive Council voting for the next SG. Now is not a time for experimenting, taking risks or bringing revolutions. And this is not the time for ego. Neither Dho nor I are interested in ego. We are interested in delivering results. As she always says, leadership before leaders. I am hopeful that the Executive Council will see, like I have, that Dho is the responsible, confident choice for a stronger UNWTO for the direct benefit of our member states, and the tourism world as a whole.”