World Tourism Organization
The World Tourism Organization Building in Madrid, Spain
Org type Organization
Acronyms UNWTO
Status Active
Established 1974

UNWTO logo

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), based in Madrid, Spain, is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism. It compiles the World Tourism rankings.[1] The World Tourism Organization is a significant global body, concerned with the collection and collation of statistical information on international tourism. This organization represents public sector tourism bodies, from most countries in the world and the publication of its data makes possible comparisons of the flow and growth of tourism on a global scale. It is a member of the United Nations Development Group.[2] The official languages of UNWTO are Arabic, English, ‎French, Russian, and Spanish.

  Organizational aims

The World Tourism Organization plays a role in promoting the development of responsible, ‎sustainable and universally accessible tourism, paying particular attention to the ‎interests of developing countries‎.

The Organization encourages the implementation ‎of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, with a view to ensuring that member ‎countries, tourist destinations and businesses maximize the positive economic, ‎social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimizing its ‎negative social and environmental impacts.

UNWTO is committed to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, geared ‎toward reducing poverty and fostering sustainable development.[3]


The origin of the World Tourism Organization stems back to 1925 when the International Congress of Official Tourist Traffic Associations (ICOTT) was formed at The Hague. Some articles from early volumes of the Annals of Tourism Research,[4] claim that the UNWTO originated from the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations (IUOTPO), although the UNWTO states that the ICOTT became the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organizations first in 1934.

Following the end of the Second World War and with international travel numbers increasing, the IUOTPO restructured itself into the International Union of Official Travel Organizations (IUOTO). A technical, non-governmental organization, the IUOTO was made up of a combination of national tourist organizations, industry and consumer groups. The goals and objectives of the IUOTO were to not only promote tourism in general but also to extract the best out of tourism as an international trade component and as an economic development strategy for developing nations.[4]

Towards the end of the 1960s, the IUOTO realized the need for further transformation to enhance its role on an international level. The 20th IUOTO general assembly in Tokyo, 1967, declared the need for the creation of an intergovernmental body with the necessary abilities to function on an international level in cooperation with other international agencies, in particular the United Nations. Throughout the existence of the IUOTO, close ties had been established between the organization and the United Nations (UN) and initial suggestions had the IUOTO becoming part of the UN. However, following the circulation of a draft convention, consensus held that any resultant intergovernmental organization should be closely linked to the UN but preserve its “complete administrative and financial autonomy”.[5]

It was on the recommendations of the UN that the formation of the new intergovernmental tourism organization was based. Resolution 2529 of the XXIVth UN general assembly stated:

[The general assembly] believes that a formula that would allow agreement to be reached more readily among governments for the establishment of an international tourism organization of an intergovernmental, particularly to assist the developing countries would be:

(a) The conversion of the International Union of Official Travel Organizations into an intergovernmental organization through a revision of its statutes:
(b) The establishment of operational links between the United Nations and the transformed Union by means of a formal agreement.[6]

In 1970, the IUOTO general assembly voted in favor of forming the World Tourism Organization (WTO), based on statutes of the IUOTO, and after ratification by the prescribed 51 states, the WTO came into operation on November 1, 1974.

Most recently, at the fifteenth general assembly in 2003, the WTO general council and the UN agreed to establish the WTO as a specialized agency of the UN. The significance of this collaboration, WTO Secretary-General Mr. Francesco Frangialli claimed, would lie in “the increased visibility it gives the WTO, and the recognition that will be accorded to [it].Tourism will be considered on an equal footing with other major activities of human society”.[7]


  UNWTO member states

  UNWTO associates

  UNWTO observers

UNWTO member states sorted by their regions


As of 2010, its membership included 154 member states,[8] seven associate members (Flemish Community, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Hong Kong, Macau, Madeira, Netherlands Antilles), two observers (Holy See, Palestine). 15 of these members have withdrawn from the organization for different periods in the past: Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Thailand and Puerto Rico.

Non-members are: Suriname, Guyana, United States, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Liberia, Somalia, Comoros, Ireland, Iceland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Estonia, United Arab Emirates, Myanmar, Singapore, New Zealand, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Niue, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga and the rest of states with limited recognition.

Additionally there are some 350 affiliate members, representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities. The frequent confusion between the two WTOs – World Tourism Organization and the Geneva-based World Trade Organization – officially ended on 1 December 2005, when the General Assembly approved to add the letters UN (for United Nations) to the start of abbreviation of the leading international tourism body in English and in Russian.[9] UNWTO abbreviation remains OMT in French and Spanish. UNWTO General Assembly concluded its work at its 16th session in Dakar, Senegal, on 2 December 2005.


  • ‎1975–1985 — Robert Lonati (France)
  • ‎‎1986–1989 — Willibald Pahr (Austria)
  • 1990–1996 — Antonio Enriquez Savignac (Mexico)
  • 1998–2009 — Francesco Frangialli (France)
  • 2010–present — Taleb Rifai (Jordan)[10]


  General Assembly

The General Assembly is the supreme organ of the Organization. Its ordinary ‎sessions, held every two years, are attended by delegates of the Full and Associate ‎Members, as well as representatives from the Business Council.‎ It is the most important meeting of senior tourism officials and high-level ‎representatives of the private sector from all over the world.

  Regional Commissions

Established in 1975 as subsidiary organs of the General Assembly, the six Regional ‎Commissions normally meet once a year. They enable member States to maintain ‎contact with one another and with the Secretariat between sessions of the General ‎Assembly, to which they submit their proposals and convey their concerns. Each ‎Commission elects one Chairman and its Vice-Chairmen from among its Members ‎for a term of two years commencing from one session to the next session of the ‎Assembly.‎‎

  Executive Council

‎The Executive Council’s task is to take all necessary measures, in consultation with ‎the Secretary-General, for the implementation of its own decisions and ‎recommendations of the Assembly and report thereon to the Assembly.‎ The Council meets at least twice a year.‎ ‎The Council consists of Full Members elected by the Assembly in the proportion of ‎one Member for every five Full Members, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure ‎laid down by the Assembly with a view to achieving fair and equitable geographical ‎distribution.‎ The term of office of Members elected to the Council is four years and elections for ‎one-half of the Council membership are held every two years. Spain is a Permanent ‎Member of the Executive Council.‎


‎*World Committee on Tourism Ethics ‎*Programme Committee ‎*Committee on Budget and Finance ‎*Committee on Market and Competitiveness

  • Committee on Statistics and the Tourism Satellite account
  • Sustainable Development of Tourism Committee
  • Committee on Poverty Reduction
  • Committee for the Review of Applications for Affiliate Membership


The Secretariat is led by Secretary-General ad interim Taleb Rifai of Jordan, who ‎supervises about 110 full-time staff at UNWTO’s Madrid Headquarters. He is assisted ‎by the Deputy Secretary-General. These officials are responsible ‎for implementing UNWTO’s programme of work and serving the needs of Members. ‎The Affiliate Members are supported by a full-time Executive Director at the ‎Madrid Headquarters. The ‎Secretariat also includes a regional support office for Asia-Pacific in Osaka, Japan, ‎financed by the Japanese Government.[11]

  See also


  1. ^ UNWTO World Tourism Barometer
  2. ^
  3. ^ United Nations World Tourism Organization, About WTO
  4. ^ a b Jafari, Creation of the intergovernmental world tourism organization
  5. ^ Jafari, Creation of the intergovernmental world tourism organization, 241
  6. ^ United Nations General Assembly, General assembly – twenty fourth session, 34
  7. ^ World Tourism Organization, WTO news, 2003, 3
  8. ^ UNWTO members
  9. ^ World Tourism Organization changes its abbreviation to UNWTO, UNWTO Press and Communications.
  10. ^
  11. ^


  External links


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