Exclusive Interview – Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation on the occasion of ITB Berlin – the first time he attends the show in this role. 

We asked Mr Pololikashvili how he is settling into the new position.  

I take this responsibility with a great sense of pride and humility. I feel very honoured that UNWTO’s member countries have shown confidence in me to lead this organisation, particularly at a moment when our sector faces important challenges but also so many opportunities to contribute to a more sustainable future. Tourism is one of the leading economic and social activities of our time and we have the opportunity to make a real positive impact on society.

What do you see as being your greatest challenges in this role?

As the leading organisation promoting sustainable tourism development, we need to support growth, but not only by growing more, but by growing better. This means taking care of our resources, creating better jobs, generating opportunities for all, paying close attention to safety issues and supporting new technologies and innovation to keep moving towards a more competitive and sustainable sector that can contribute to the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

One of my priorities is to listen closely to all parties and try to respond in a relevant manner to the needs of UNWTO members and supporting them to use tourism’s full potential to build prosperity for their countries. At ITB 2018 we will host a closed meeting of the African Ministers of Tourism to create a Special Programme for Africa. I want to build solid bridges between the public and the private sectors, aiming to generate concrete solutions for the sector, travellers and the communities which depend on tourism.

Last year saw a remarkable 7% growth in global tourism, with momentum continuing this year. What are the main drivers of this continued growth?

The positive results mirror stronger economic growth and the return of confidence in many parts of the world. The good results we have been observing for several years also tell the story of growing middle classes and more affordable travel.

You arrive in the position just after the year of sustainable tourism for development. What have been the key take-aways from this year of action, and how are actions continuing into the future?

The fact that the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development was a unique opportunity. Making this world a better place in the true sense of the word, and not just a marketing slogan. The International Year did not end on December 31, this was really just a kick-start and we must continue building on what we have achieved.

Training seems to be a growing part of your agenda. Why so? 

Capacity building in general has always been at the heart of UNWTO. This makes sense both vis-à-vis the growing tourist demand and also the growing relevance of the tourism sector. No matter how digital we become, travel is still a very personal and individual experience. It is critical for quality supply, and to consolidate tourism as a quality job creator. As the sector becomes increasingly relevant, we need the whole tourism value chain to become aware of what tourism really entails. We are one of the most transversal economic activities around, and we keep growing.

What are the key themes being covered by UNWTO in meetings at ITB Berlin this year?

This year, UNWTO will hold two major meetings at ITB:

  • the 8th UNWTO Silk Road Ministers’ Meeting (Wednesday 7 March 2018, from 14.00-16.00, followed by 7th UNWTO Silk Road Tour Operators Forum on Thursday 8 March 2018, 14.00-16.00)

  • and a closed Ministerial Meeting for Africa.

The Silk Road Ministerial meeting will focus on the “2025 Silk Road Tourism Agenda”; the long-term tourism vision for the historic Silk Road routes. We will also present the research on the Tourism Impact of the 21st century Maritime Silk Road. The Forum will help Silk Road tour operators better understand, engage and work with the international travel trade. This will also include a novel speed-networking session, allowing to showcase the latest products to an international audience.

Interview reproduced with permission from ITB Berlin News – the official daily of ITB Berlin.