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What does the World Tourism Organisation do?

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The World Tourism Organisation sounds like a grand name – but what do they actually do? We’ve put together a guide to the World Tourism Organisation so you can get to know a bit more about them. Keep reading to find out more…

What is the World Tourism Organisation?

With the acronym UNWTO, the World Tourism Organisation is the United Nations agency who exist to promote ‘responsible, sustainable and universally accessible’ tourism. They are the leading international organisation within the tourism industry.

The headquarters of the World Tourism Organisation are in Madrid. The UNWTO actually dates back to 1925, in a roundabout way. In this year, the first international congress of official tourist organisations was held at The Hague. After annual meetings, they formed the International Union of Official Tourist Publicity Organisations known as IUOTPO. This was in 1934. A few years later, this was restructured to form the International Union of Official Travel Organisations (IUOTO).

In 1970, the IUOTO became the World Tourism Organisation (WTO). This was in order to further enhance the group’s role on an international level. Only in 2003 did it become a specialised agency of the UN, known as UNWTO.

The World Tourism Organisation has five official languages: Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The structure of the World Tourism Organisation

The structure of the UNWTO is as follows:

The General Assembly, made up of full members and associate members, meet every two years to approve the budget, programme of work, and topics of vital importance. A secretary-general is elected every 4 years.

The Executive Council, who meet every two years, is the governing board of the UNWTO who ensure the organisation does what it sets out to do.

There are also specialised committees, made up on UNWTO members. The committees advise on management and programme content.

The secretariat, led by the secretary-general, implement the UNWTO’s programme of work.

What does the World Tourism Organisation do?

Major aims of the World Tourism Organisation

UNWTO has 158 member states from around the world. The organisation encourages these member states to implement the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. There are 10 principles within this code, which each cover something different:

  1. Tourism’s contribution to mutual understanding and respect between peoples and societies.
  2. Tourism as a vehicle for individual and collective fulfilment.
  3. Tourism, a factor for sustainable development.
  4. Tourism, a user of the cultural heritage of mankind and contributor to its enhancement.
  5. Tourism, a beneficial activity for host countries and communities.
  6. Obligations of stakeholders in tourism development.
  7. Right to tourism.
  8. Liberty of tourist movements.
  9. Rights of the works and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry.
  10. Implementation of the principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism.

Each of these articles (you can read them all in detail here) make up the code as a whole, and lay out loose suggestions about how tourism should be conducted. The overarching aim of this code is to maximise the socio-economic contribution of tourism, while minimising its possible negative impact.

UNWTO also promotes tourism as a way to achieve the worldwide Sustainable Development Goals. The UN created this, and they came into force in January 2016. They are known as the ‘7 goals to change the world’, and cover things like quality education, decent work and economic growth, and peace, justice and strong institutions.

The aforementioned Sustainable Development Goals are part of the wider 2030 Agenda. This global framework was set out to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change by the year 2030. Tourism is something that can aid in all of these goals, either directly or indirectly.

Day to day role of the World Tourism Organisation

Above are the major goals of the UNWTO, and the big things they do/hope to achieve. On a more practical basis, the World Tourism Organisation do a lot of other things. They put together infographics relating to tourism, and collect various statistics. The UNWTO also figures out key trends within the tourism industry, which can then be built upon.

As part of their role within the tourism industry, the World Tourism Organisation offers training and education. It hopes to make tourism an effective development tool.

UNWTO puts together various reports on all sorts of travel and tourism-related topics. Governments and tourists boards can access these reports to improve on what they’re doing. Thanks to the World Tourism Organisation, travel companies can make experiences more accessible, more sustainable, more ethical – just generally better.

These reports also praise tourist boards and governments for the developments that have been made within the industry. They set out what’s going well and where growth has been made. Whether it’s a certain about of money that tourism in a particular country has generated, or the amount of jobs that have been created, the World Tourism Organisations celebrates the positive impact of the industry as well as suggesting where changes can be made.


The World Tourism Organisations hosts a variety of global events, meetings and summits. These include talks and discussions on sustainability, conferences about accessibility, gender empowerment and digital tourism. Events are held around the world a few times per month. A full calendar can be found HERE.

Once a year, on September 27th, the World Tourism Organisation facilities an event called World Tourism Day. This is a worldwide celebration of tourism, hosted in a particular country each year. Every event has a different theme, such as promoting universal accessibility, or linking cultures.

So, that’s what the World Tourism Organisation is, and what they do!

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