I recently attended the landmark 100th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) executive council and, alongside it, the 15th meeting of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE) on which I’m honoured to sit as a member.
You might ask why someone as deeply rooted in the private sector as I am would be involved with the UNWTO and WCTE. It’s because I regard them as organisations with international credibility and, therefore, of significance.
Standards of behaviour
Whatever walk of professional life we’re in – public, private, academic or not for profit – most of us have standards and values.
Our personal and professional integrity guides our behaviour, and it would be good to know such values also apply in most companies and organisations. Yet we know this is not always the case.
Even companies with strong behavioural standards at an individual and corporate level experience good and bad behaviours, often driven by self-interest – what better example is there than Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his 17-year stranglehold on the international football association.
I strongly believe the UNWTO and WCTE to be significant players in our sector, in that they represent exemplary standards and ethics, and help to ensure our industry can function across the world.
No sector extends more broadly and goes deeper into communities. It is essential that travel and tourism function with trust, security and a modicum of international standards and ethical practices.
Long before my time, the UNWTO and WCTE developed a global code of ethics for tourism – the only global code of its kind in the world.
What I witnessed at the council meeting reinforced the value of this code. The WCTE was asked to investigate a conflict between two UNWTO member countries and make recommendations.
I can’t divulge the details, but we took the code of ethics as our reference point. Inevitably, we did not satisfy either protagonist, but what impressed me was the way the representatives of the other 45 nations on the committee accepted the outcome.
It was incredible to see how many were at pains to endorse the code and the WCTE’s recommendations.
In legal terms, the code is ‘soft law’ – it involves no legal commitment. Yet to listen to the member states, you would think it did.
I was equally delighted that the executive council ratified the committee’s next step, which will be to develop the code of ethics into a convention or treaty. This will make the code legally binding on destinations that adopt it.
My task now is to develop the code in a form more accessible to the private sector, so that it can be digested and understood relatively easily, as a first step to expanding its reach, acceptance and understanding.
Ensuring the right standards, values and ethics govern us in our business dealings across the world can only be a good thing. I hope you agree.